December 4, 2017
Twenty two years ago, a desperate man stepped into the Day & Nite Mini Mart in Blythe, pulled a gun, demanded money and shot the clerk behind the counter. Then he grabbed the cash and fled.
That killer, a jury said, was Ernesto Salgado Martinez.
Martinez, 42, was convicted Monday of murdering Randip Singh, a shopkeeper who was gunned down during a deadly road trip to Arizona and back in 1995. The verdict, which took three-and-a-half days to reach, brings closure to one of the longest and most convoluted prosecutions in the recent history of Riverside County. Martinez’s verdict was confirmed by John Hall, a spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office.
Martinez, who was only 19 at the time, drove from Indio to Arizona to visit his family members, then was pulled over by a highway patrol officer along the Beeline Highway. Martinez shot that officer, Bob Martin, then fled back to California, where he crossed the state line and ran out of gas in Blythe. Prosecutors say Martinez then robbed the mini-mart, shooting Singh when he refused to empty the register.
During closing arguments last week, Deputy District Attorney Chris Cook said there was “overwhelming” evidence that Martinez was fleeing from one murder and killed again to keep running.
“The thing standing between him and getting home to Indio – a place of safety, family and familiarity – was Randip,” Cook said. “He was out of options and out of gas. He had just killed a police officer, he had to get home.”
“And he had a gun.”
Martinez, who taught himself law during two decades behind bars, acted as his own attorney during a six-week trial. In his own closing arguments, he accused witnesses of changing their stories and implied that a key piece of the evidence – a bullet casing – had been planted. He told jurors the prosecution’s case had “insulted their intelligence.”
“They are not asking you to decide this case based on the evidence. They are asking you to decide this case based on prejudice,” Martinez said.Martinez was also on trial for attempted murder, accused of stabbing his cell mate, Leroy Gutierrez, 50 times in 2011. Martinez argued that the stabbing was self defense, and jury acquitted him of the attempted murder charge on Monday.
The murder case will now proceed to the sentencing phase, at which prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty. However, regardless of how Martinez is sentenced, once the decision is made he will be returned to Arizona, where he has already received the death penalty for killing Martin, the highway patrol officer. Even if Martinez is sentenced to death in California, Arizona will still get to kill him first.
After the Blythe shooting, police captured Martinez during a standoff in Indio. Martinez was prosecuted in Arizona first, where he was convicted of killing Martin in 1998. Twelve years later, in 2010, local prosecutors had Martinez pulled off of Arizona Death Row and brought to Riverside County to be tried for Singh’s death. Now back in California, Martinez fired his public defender and became his own attorney. His case then took seven years to get to trial, in part because of Martinez’s talent for filing and arguing pre-trial motions.
“He is incredibly dangerous because he is so bright,” District Attorney Mike Hestrin said of Martinez in 2015. “I would like to get him out of our system and out of our jail. And one of the ways to do that is to get this case to trial as quickly as possible.”