Thursday, April 18, 2024

Judge to Determine Whether Deaf-Mute Capital Murder Suspect Goes Free

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

In the latest of a yearslong capital murder case, a judge must decide if a deaf, mute man accused of raping and killing a 16-year-old in 2005 is a danger to himself or others and if continued treatment is medically appropriate.

After eight years of what Williamsburg-James City County Commonwealth’s Attorney Nate Green calls a “perpetual treadmill” of determining whether Oswaldo Martinez is competent to stand trial, medical experts working with Martinez at Central State Hospital told a court in September 2013 he would likely never become competent due to his lack of ability to speak or understand any languages, including sign language.

The next step in the legal process was to determine whether Martinez was a sexually violent predator. The attorney general ruled Martinez did not meet the criteria of a sexually violent predator, which put him back in court.

As part of the final option in the Virginia state code dealing with incompetency in capital charges, Green presented evidence to a Circuit Court judge Monday that argued for Martinez, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador, to receive indefinite continued treatment instead of being released.

If the judge agrees Martinez is a danger to himself or others and requires continued medical treatment, Martinez will be back in hospital care indefinitely, where doctors would continue to teach him communication skills in the hopes he becomes competent to stand trial.

A judge would then review Martinez’ competency every six months to determine whether his communication skills have improved enough to defend himself adequately in court.

If the judge sides with Defense Attorney Tim Clancy and finds Martinez is not a danger to himself or others and medical treatment is not appropriate, Martinez will be released.

Martinez faces two counts of capital murder for allegedly raping and killing 16-year-old Brittany Binger in James City County. His DNA, found on a beer bottle from a local bar Martinez frequented, matched DNA found on a bottle of juice located at the scene, according to Brad Jenkins, the biology program manager for the Virginia Department of Forensic Science.

Martinez has had little progress in improving his communication skills, according to testimonies from two Central State Hospital employees.

He works with a sign language instructor 12 to 14 hours a month, Dr. James Bell, director of forensic sciences at Central State Hospital said. He noted since Martinez was deemed incompetent for the foreseeable future last year, his interest in learning sign language has declined.

Martinez stays active, according to Dr. Cynthia Maghakian, a psychiatrist at Central State Hospital. She said Martinez, who wears hearing aids, is friends with other patients, able to groom and take care of himself and able to express his needs. He enjoys spending time outside, playing cards and going to music therapy lessons.

But he has also been reprimanded for masturbating in front of other patients and staff members, touching female staff members inappropriately and getting into physical altercations.

Maghakian said Martinez has been diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, symptoms of which include a failure to conform to social norms, a disregard for the rights of others, deceitfulness and lying, irritability and aggressiveness, impulsivity and a lack of remorse.

“He’ll get frustrated when he doesn’t get what he wants,” Maghakian said.

His sign language is improving, she said, but is still not adequate enough to allow him to effectively defend himself during a trial.

Martinez is currently not on any medication, but has been on an antipsychotic sedative in the past, Maghakian said.

Before a judge makes a ruling on whether Martinez is released or remains in the hospital, Martinez’s attorney Clancy will present his evidence. A date to set the hearing will be decided at 9 a.m. Dec. 17.

Because Martinez is charged with capital murder, he may remain in hospital care for the rest of his life if he never becomes competent, Green said.

“Ultimately, success is not relevant,” he said, explaining the only alternative to having Martinez released is to have him remain in the hospital “to work on his communication deficiencies in hopes that eventually we can get to the point of trial.”

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