Overcoming Obstacles: People v. Joshua Martinez
By Michael Selyem, Deputy District Attorney
On September 3, 2013, we finally began pre-trial motions in the case of People v. Joshua Martinez. I say finally because, Martinez, a well-documented North Side Colton gang member had managed to drag this case on for more than 8 years before it finally went to trial.
The trial took place in department S-26 of the San Bernardino Superior Court. Martinez was charged with murdering Christopher Powers with a firearm on June 29, 2005. Additionally, Martinez was charged with dissuading a witness from testifying and accompanying gang enhancements. Powers had gone with Martinez and a female named Ravenna Waters attempting to purchase methamphetamine.
The three traveled in a very old and beat up van driven by Waters. The victim and Martinez had previously made an agreement wherein the victim agreed to trade his pick-up truck to Martinez for an amount of methamphetamine. After their unsuccessful attempts to get the drugs Martinez learned that the victim did not have possession of the title to the truck he wanted to trade. Upon learning this Martinez went into a rage.
While driving away from the area where they had attempted to purchase the drugs, Waters’ van stalled on Cajon Blvd. in Devore. Believing the van had run out of gas, Powers told Martinez he would walk back to a friend’s house to syphon some gas from a vehicle. Powers exited the van and Martinez exited directly after him. As soon as Martinez exited the van he produced a .22 caliber handgun and shot Powers in the head four times leaving him there to die in the roadway. Ravenna Waters was the only witness to the murder.
The defendant got back into the passenger side of the van and told Waters, “I guess the truck is mine now.” Martinez then ordered Waters to drive him back to her residence. Along the way Martinez told Waters that because she was the only witness to the murder he was going to follow her everywhere she went and he threatened her, her husband and her children if she were to say anything to the police.
Although initially reluctant to report the incident to the police, Waters eventually came forward approximately one week after the shooting and reported the incident. She told the police not only that Martinez had murdered Powers but since the incident she had been followed and confronted on numerous occasions by both Martinez and his gangster friends who threatened her and her family in order to insure she was not talking to the police. After the defendant was arrested Waters and her husband were removed and relocated out of the area because law enforcement had validated the threats. At the preliminary hearing before trial, Waters’ testimony was recorded to preserve the testimony in case anything was to happen.
At trial Waters was clear and unequivocal about not wanting to be there and testify in this case. However, she courageously took the oath and told the truth. Without hesitation she identified Martinez as the person that murdered Powers back in 2005. Throughout cross-examination the defense attorney kept suggesting that Waters or one of her sons was the actual murderer and that Waters was simply covering up for a family member by blaming Martinez for the murder. Each time such a suggestion was made Waters quickly corrected him. Her recollection of the events that had transpired more than 8 years prior was clear, concise and consistent. At one point when the defense suggested her testimony was “coached” she simply told him that when you tell the truth it is easy to recollect what happened. Without the honesty and courage shown by Ravenna Waters, Martinez would have gotten away with murder.
Charles Dedrick, who was the husband of Ravenna Waters, also testified indicating that the threats to Waters and her family were real. He chronicled how only hours after the murder Martinez had come back to their house with his fellow gang members wanting Waters to “take a ride” with them. Dedrick managed to stall them long enough and convinced them to come back in the morning. After they had finally left, Waters and Dedrick packed their bags and left their residence.
They ran for more than four days, staying in hotels, sleeping in their car and hiding at friends’ houses. During this time they had received calls from Waters’ son that Martinez was coming over to their residence trespassing and burglarizing their home. It was at that point that Waters and Dedrick knew the harassment would not stop and reported the murder to the police.
The defense attempted to concoct an alibi by having Martinez’s girlfriend (Sheila Rodarte) come to court and say that Martinez was at a hospital the night of the murder while Rodarte’s daughter was having surgery. The issue was that Rodarte’s daughter actually did have surgery the same night the murder was committed. However, after listening to countless dozens of jail calls Martinez finally made a call to Rodarte to discuss the alibi. In his statements on the phone he got Rodarte to agree with times and places that would provide an alibi for himself. The problem was that Rodarte had already made statements to a defense investigator that indicated that either one or both of them were lying. Upon hearing the jail call for the first time while she testified Rodarte was hard pressed to explain the discrepancies.
The jury deliberated for only one day convicting Martinez of first degree murder with use of a firearm. They also convicted him of dissuading a witness from testifying and found true the enhancement that he did so for the benefit of a criminal street gang.
This case exemplifies what prosecutors often must overcome in “gang” cases. Not only the unwillingness of witnesses to come to court and testify but the reach of the gang member and his associates in trying to help avoid arrest, detection or conviction by threatening and harassing witnesses to their crimes. Witnesses are rightfully concerned about retaliation against themselves and their families in cases such as these.
Throughout the trial there was a constant law enforcement presence and every civilian needed to be escorted to and from the court house. While many obstacles need to be overcome to present such cases to a jury, the reward of seeing Martinez sentenced to 61 years to life certainly warranted the efforts to get justice for Christopher Powers.