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Posted on: September 22, 2016

Victims Closer to Justice in State v. Martinson

PHOENIX—The Arizona Court of Appeals handed down a key opinion in State v. Martinson, the case of a father accused of killing his five-year-old son in 2004. The Court of Appeals found that the trial judge’s rulings that precluded evidence of intent to kill was erroneous and vacated the trial judge’s dismissal of the case with prejudice. The ruling, in effect, dismisses two previous cases, and allows the Count Attorney to file new charges.

“Today’s order validates the State’s contention that evidence of premeditation should have been allowed in the original trial,” said County Attorney Bill Montgomery. “We will now be able to go forward to seek justice for the young victim and his mother.”

In August 2004, Jeffrey Martinson, a divorced father, had a scheduled weekend visitation with his son. When her son was not returned to her Sunday evening, she called police to check on Martinson’s home. Once there, police discovered the defendant lying on his bed, unresponsive, with his wrists cut. In another room they found the five-year-old boy deceased. A toxicology report later found evidence of a lethal amount of muscle relaxant in the child’s blood. The defendant was indicted by a grand jury of one count of first degree felony murder and one count of child abuse.

The case went to trial in 2011, and after opening statements, the defense made a motion to preclude evidence of intent to kill, which the Superior Court granted erroneously relying on a 1993 case, State v. Styers, which stated that if child abuse is considered the precursor to murder, the State would not be allowed to present evidence of intent to kill. Though jurors unanimously found the defendant guilty of both counts, they were unable to reach a unanimous decision in the penalty phase, resulting in a mistrial.

The defense made a motion for a new trial, citing juror misconduct and other errors. The trial judge granted this motion. In order to ensure that evidence of intent would be admissible, the State subsequently filed new charges in 2012 for premeditated murder and asked that the newer charges be substituted for the older ones. This request was litigated between the trial court and the appellate courts, with the trial court ultimately dismissing the 2004 case with prejudice--in effect barring any prosecution whatsoever. The Court of Appeals’ ruling today found that the trial court ruled in error, which allows the County Attorney to file new charges.

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