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Defendants In Santa Maria Woman’s Attack, Death Appear in Court

Those opposed to lax immigration policies demonstrate in front of court complex as counter-protest is held nearby

Jose Villagomez, 20, sits in the Santa Maria courtroom on Thursday. Villagomez is one of two men charged in the brutal attack that led to the death of Santa Maria woman Marilyn Pharis.
Jose Villagomez, 20, sits in the Santa Maria courtroom on Thursday. Villagomez is one of two men charged in the brutal attack that led to the death of Santa Maria woman Marilyn Pharis. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Two men charged with murder in connection with the brutal attack and rape of a Santa Maria woman appeared Thursday in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, where one pleaded not guilty.  

Victor Aureliano Martinez (aka Victor Aureliano Martinez Ramirez), represented by Deputy Public Defender Lori Pedego, entered a not-guilty plea on the amended complaint and denied the special allegation before Judge John McGregor.

He is scheduled to return Sept. 17, when the date for a preliminary hearing will be set. 

Defense attorney Michael Scott represents Martinez’s alleged accomplice, Jose Villagomez, 20, and was gratned a delay of his arraignment hearing. 

Both men are being held in custody and the judge did not set bail in the case, but agreed to revisit the matter later.

Authorities say the men broke into the home of Marilyn Pharis, 64, in the 900 block of North Dejoy Street on July 24.

They are accused of sexually assaulting the U.S. Air Force veteran, strangling her, and then beating her on the face and head with a hammer. She died at a local hospital eight days after the attack, police said. 

Originally charged with attempted murder, the men now face a murder charge after an autopsy linked the attack to Pharis’s death, authorities said last week.

The men are charged with first-degree murder with special circumstances of burglary, mayhem and rape during a felony murder.

Martinez has an additional special circumstance of torture, plus an allegation of use of a deadly weapon. He is also charged with a count of first-degree burglary

Santa Ynez Valley resident Tami Bollay, right, joined protesters calling for stronger immigration policies in front of the Santa Maria Court Complex on Thursday. Click to view larger
Santa Ynez Valley resident Tami Bollay, right, joined protesters calling for stronger immigration policies in front of the Santa Maria Court Complex on Thursday.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

The relatively short court appearance for the two men, who were dressed in civilian clothes, attracted media from Los Angeles in addition to local reporters. 

The case has drawn national attention because Martinez is an undocumented immigrant with a prior arrest record. 

Immigration status doesn’t typically come up during criminal proceedings, and Martinez’s defense attorney questioned whether her client can receive a fair trial amid the widespread attention.

“I don’t know with the national media attention if he can get a fair trial anywhere in this country at this point,” Pedego said outside of court. 

“As you are all aware, this has garnered national attention, which has nothing to do with this case. …We think it is inappropriate for people to use her death to catapult their own political agenda or opinions in the national spotlight.”

As the men made their court appearance, several women who sat in the courtroom wore large buttons with the words “No more,” representing rape victims. 

“We’re here today to represent Marilyn because she does not have a voice anymore,” said Alison Wales, from the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center, after the hearing.

The agency’s advocates supported Pharis on the day of the attack and before she died.

“The advocates were impressed with her willingness to heal and move forward and (she) wanted justice for herself,” Wales said.

Outside the courtroom, about three dozen people lined sidewalks on the east and west sides of Miller Street to protest — and counter-protest — national immigration policies.

Alison Wales from the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center speaks to media after a court hearing for men charged with the brutal attack that led to Marilyn Pharis’ death. Click to view larger
Alison Wales from the North County Rape Crisis and Child Protection Center speaks to media after a court hearing for men charged with the brutal attack that led to Marilyn Pharis’ death.    (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“Should we murder your kids?” a woman shouted at counter-demonstrators. “Maybe it’s time.”

A man yelled, “Why do you hate Americans? Why do you kill Americans?” 

Santa Ynez Valley resident Tami Bollay was among those who showed up at the event organized by the Santa Barbara Tea Party & Culpepper Society.

“What’s the point of paying for our government if the government isn’t defending the citizens?” Bollay asked. “Why do I need to be taxed?”

Former congressional candidate Matt Kokkonen, who calls himself a legal immigrant, said he blamed the state’s decision to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. 

“That’s one of the outgrowths of this coddling to illegals that we’re seeing right here,” the San Luis Obispo resident said.

As counter-demonstrators shouted “Stop the hate,” those seeking enforcement of immigration laws yelled back with “Stop the murders.”

Roughly the same number of counter-protesters held signs and chanted as noontime traffic traveled between the opposing groups staged outside the courthouse.

Some carried signs saying “Don’t use tragedy to spread hate” and “Stop the hate.”

“We’re here as a community; We mourn this tragedy,” said Hazel Davalos-Putnam, an organizing director with CAUSE.

“But we’re here because it is shameful that this group wants to use a tragedy, trivialize a tragedy, for their own hateful political agenda.”

She said studies show immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born citizens.

“We want to make sure this isolated, unique — although tragic —  incident is not used to generalize and stereotype an entire community,” she said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Hazel Davalos-Putnam, a community organizer with CAUSE, chants with participants in a counter demonstration on the east side of Miller Street on Thursday. Click to view larger
Hazel Davalos-Putnam, a community organizer with CAUSE, chants with participants in a counter demonstration on the east side of Miller Street on Thursday. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

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