Oswaldo Martinez to remain in Central State Hospital

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Williamsburg-James City County Courthouse
Williamsburg-James City County Courthouse

A judge’s ruling will keep a deaf-mute man accused of capital murder institutionalized until he is able to stand trial.

But experts say that day will likely never come for Oswaldo Elias Martinez, 46.

Martinez, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, is accused of raping and murdering 16-year-old Brittany Binger on Jan. 2, 2005, according to documents filed in Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court.

Martinez, who cannot speak any language, including American Sign Language, has been in and out of jail and mental facilities since his February 2005 arrest, said Williamsburg-James City County Commonwealth’s Attorney Nate Green.

During much of that time, specialists tried to teach him ASL and help him understand the court proceedings ahead of him, Green said.

Martinez stopped getting individual ASL lessons at some point in recent years, although Green could not confirm when.

Martinez, who is charged with two counts of capital murder, was found unrestorably incompetent to stand trial by experts in September 2013.

His incompetency is not due to a mental defect, but the inability to understand language, Green said.

“We’ve kind of thrown up our hands and said there’s no treatment that’s going to restore competency,” Green said. “That’s not the end of it. There are still provisions in the law that talk about what you’re going to do with [him].”

In a May 17 letter of opinion, Judge William H. Shaw III wrote that Martinez should stay at Central State Hospital, in Petersburg, until his competency is restored — even if that day never comes.

From left to right: Brittany Binger and Leslie Chambers, both 16, pose for a picture in October 2004. Binger was found raped and murdered about three months later on Jan. 2, 2005.
From left to right: Brittany Binger and Leslie Chambers, both 16, pose for a picture in October 2004. (Courtesy Leslie Chambers)

Shaw’s ruling is made possible by a section of the Code of Virginia which says the state can hold people indefinitely who are charged with capital murder if the prosecution proves that the person is and remains incompetent to stand trial, is a danger to themselves and others, and that the treatment they are receiving is medically appropriate.

Shaw’s decision, which includes competency reviews every six months in Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court, came about two weeks after an April 29 hearing in which Green and defense attorney Timothy Clancy argued over the definition of medically appropriate treatment.

“Does success equal appropriateness? If you’re not going to be successful, is it inappropriate to treat somebody? That’s not the right link,” Green said. “The link is, is there a problem? Are you treating the problem? What do you don’t ask is ‘Is this treatment going to be successful?’”

Shaw’s opinion closes the discussion about whether or not the state can hold Martinez, but may open talks about the constitutionality of holding him indefinitely without a trial, Green said.

“I anticipate that this will not be the end of a review of that statute,” Green said, referring to the Code of Virginia. “The defense has the right to question if that statute is constitutional. They have not filed a motion, but I do anticipate that will happen.”

Clancy could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.

Martinez’s case is scheduled to be heard in Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court on Oct. 28, Green said.

Although Shaw’s ruling will keep Martinez from walking freely, it does little to bring closure for those close to Binger.

Leslie Chambers, 28, met Binger when they were in middle school. The girls quickly bonded and referred to each other as sisters.

Chambers, who was also 16 when Binger died, has gone to about 40 court hearings over the past 11 years. Often she drove to Williamsburg from Newport News to find that the hearing had been continued.

“We’ve had groundhog day every six months,” Chambers said. “It’s a reminder that we’re never really going to have that conviction.”

Related coverage:

A letter of opinion penned by Judge William H. Shaw III.