A 51-year-old man suspected in a nationwide spree of killings is facing a murder charge stemming from a 1982 cold case in Santa Barbara County.
Jose Manual Martinez of Richgrove in Tulare County is accused in the shooting death of Silvestre Ayon, 30, on a Santa Ynez Valley ranch, according to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.
Ayon was gunned down while driving a tractor on a ranch off Refugio Road on Oct. 1, 1982, said Steve Foley, chief deputy district attorney.
A 17-year-old juvenile, whose name was not released, was wounded in the attack but survived, Foley said.
Martinez’s alleged involvement in the Santa Ynez killing came to light after he was charged with two counts of murder a year ago in Alabama, according to the weekly Moulton Advertiser in Lawrence County, Ala.
The newspaper reported that Martinez was picked up at a border crossing from Mexico in Yuma, Ariz., and was extradited to Alabama, where he confessed to murders in several states and claimed to be a hired assassin for drug cartels.
Detectives from Santa Barbara County traveled to Alabama late last year to interview Martinez after being alerted to his possible involvement in the Ayon killing by Tulare County authorities, said Sam Gross, chief deputy for the county Sheriff’s Department.
Charges against Martinez in the Santa Barbara County case were filed this week in Tulare County, where he is believed to have killed six other people between 1980 and 2011.
Two other murder charges from Kern County also were filed against him.
The California cases against Martinez were consolidated and will all be tried in Tulare County, Assistant Deputy District Attorney Anthony Fultz said, because most of the witnesses in the case are from that area.
The consolidation is allowed under a state law that applies to serial and contract killings, Foley said.
Ayon and the teenager were working on the ranch, Gross said, “when a car pulled up next to them. Maybe words were exchanged, and then shots were fired.”
He said there was no indication in the case file that the slaying was connected to a drug cartel.
“We sort of looked at it as kind of a revenge killing,” Gross said, adding that a family in Mexico is believed to have ordered the attack on Ayon, and the teen was shot because he was a witness.
Detectives worked the case beginning in 1982, but didn’t catch a break until about 10 years later, when one suspect — a Mexican national — was arrested, Gross said.
That suspect, whose name was not available, was eventually deported to Mexico, where he was to be tried for the killing, he said.
“That’s where our case file ends,” Gross added.
Martinez has been charged with nine counts of murder and one count of attempted murder in the California cases.
Fultz said he also is facing special-circumstances allegations of multiple murders, lying in wait, kidnapping and murder for financial gain, and could be eligible for the death penalty.
Martinez remains in custody in Alabama, with a tentative trial date in June, Fultz said.
After the Alabama trial has concluded, Tulare County officials hope Martinez will be extradited to California although he also is a suspect in two Florida killings in 2006.