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Friday, May 24, 2024

Alleged Killer to Appear in WJCC Court Today

WJCC Courthouse USE1A deaf and mute man accused of raping and killing a 16-year-old James City County girl in 2005 will appear in court Thursday where prosecutors hope a final judgment can be made as to whether he is competent to stand trial.

Oswaldo Martinez, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, has yet to stand trial for the incident. He has appeared before the court many times since 2005 as mental health professionals have evaluated his potential to stand trial. His attorneys said in February that while he has had some limited success learning vocabulary words, he has not made any progress with syntax or grammar. Without learning those concepts, the concern is Martinez won’t be able to consult with his attorneys during the trial or understand testimony from witnesses.

He last appeared before the court in February, when his attorneys argued he’s not competent to be tried because he is not fluent in any language — including sign language — rendering him unable to communicate. They said his chance of learning to communicate is close to zero. Prosecutors argued he can eventually be instructed to such a degree that is sufficient for him to be tried.

At February’s hearing, Carolyn Corbett, an associate professor of psychology at Gallaudet University, a Washington, D.C., university that services the deaf, said Martinez won’t be able to pick up the grammar or syntax he needs. She likened his situation to knowing words like “bathroom” and “restaurant” in French but not being able to use the French language in a way that would render him competent to stand trail there.

Martinez receives treatment at Central State Hospital in Petersburg where hospital staff work to teach him sign language in a bid to make him competent to stand trial. At the conclusion of February’s hearing, Judge William Shaw ruled Martinez will return to Central State to continue treatment.

Shaw’s ruling came after an afternoon of testimony on issues ranging from the nature of language acquisition in childhood to the success rates of teaching language to people who lack it in their adult years.

Martinez faced five charges at the February hearing: two counts of capital homicide, one count of rape, one count of robbery and one count of forcible sodomy. Though he is accused of killing one person, the second homicide charge is a procedural move so that if a jury decides in a trial that there’s not enough evidence of the robbery or rape, at least one of the homicide charges will stick. Capital homicide is a charge filed when the killing occurs during the commission of another felony.

Williamsburg-James City County Commonwealth’s Attorney Nate Green dropped the rape, robbery and sodomy charges, though they can be re-indicted if Martinez is found competent to stand trial

Martinez was arrested after police matched DNA samples from him to those found on the victim’s body. DNA under her fingernails and on a bottle left next to her body matched Martinez.

Police used a tracking dog that led them to a convenience store, where they found surveillance footage of Martinez purchasing a bottle. They were then led to a local bar, where they learned of Martinez. Once there, they watched Martinez drink a beer before taking the bottle and testing the DNA on it, which matched what was found at the scene, according to an article in the William and Mary Law Review that outlined the details of the killing and the subsequent investigation.

The hearing starts at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court.

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