Criminal Justice

Charged in 10 slayings, claimed drug cartel hit man admitted to dozens, authorities say

A man who claims he to have killed up to 40 people while working as an enforcer for a drug cartel over a period of more than 30 years has been charged in one slaying in Alabama, plus another nine in California.

Authorities believe that Jose Manuel Martinez, 51, is telling the truth about his claimed role as a contract killer because of specific details he gave investigators, says Errek Jett, who serves as district attorney in Lawrence County, Ala.

The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times (sub. req.) have stories.

Martinez was arrested last year in Arizona, after entering the U.S. from Mexico as he returned from a trip, in an Alabama murder case that had been under investigation for months. Nine more murder charges against him, as well an attempted murder charge, were announced Tuesday in Tulare, Kern and Santa Barbara counties in California. He is accused of killing nine men in the state between 1980 and 2011.

Martinez is charged in the Alabama case with shooting to death a business acquaintance in 2013 who insulted his daughter by suggesting that she wasn’t a good mother, another Los Angeles Times (sub. req.) reports.

“He was pretty forthright. In essence, he told them he had had a long life of it and now he was ready to ‘fess up,” said Jett of Martinez’ confession. The claimed hit man was not sorry, the DA noted, quoting Martinez as saying: “If I didn’t do the job, someone would have.”

Attorney Thomas Turner represents Martinez in the Alabama case. He describes his client as a “polite and a likable individual” who looks forward to an acquittal in his scheduled June trial there so that he can return to his home in a small town 40 miles from Bakersfield, Calif., the newspaper says.

Martinez may have been motivated to confess by learning that his DNA had been linked to a cold Florida double-murder case, the Times reports. He admitted the killings, according to authorities, saying that he had killed two men whose bodies were found in a pickup in 2006 because they had stolen 10 kilograms of cocaine from an associate.

When Martinez was able to collect money from those who owed drug debts, he was allowed to keep 25 percent, he told authorities.

His claimed criminal career does not appear to have been prosperous; Martinez lived with his mother in a modest Richgrove home amidst farms and related commercial buildings and mowed his own lawn, the newspaper says.

Stunned by news of the murder charges, his mother, Loreta Fernandez, told the newspaper that she doesn’t believe Martinez is guilty. “He’s saying things that aren’t true,” she said of her son in Spanish.

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