Tuesday, August 14 , 2018, 9:47 am | Mostly Cloudy 70º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Attorney Claims Santa Maria Police Improperly Interviewed Suspect in Marilyn Pharis Attack

Judge delays hearing for a month, but details of discovery motion remain scant

Victor Aureliano Martinez, charged with murder in the brutal 2015 assault on Marilyn Pharis in her Santa Maria home, enters a courtroom Friday for a brief hearing on a motion by his defense attorney. Martinez’s status as an undocumented immigrant with prior arrests has brought additional attention to criminal proceedings in the case.
Victor Aureliano Martinez, charged with murder in the brutal 2015 assault on Marilyn Pharis in her Santa Maria home, enters a courtroom Friday for a brief hearing on a motion by his defense attorney. Martinez’s status as an undocumented immigrant with prior arrests has brought additional attention to criminal proceedings in the case. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A defense attorney for a man charged with murder in a vicious attack on a Santa Maria woman last summer is seeking details about an alleged “unrecorded, untranscribed, unmemorialized and likely un-Mirandized interrogation.”

Marilyn Pharis, 64, was the victim of a violent assault in her Santa Maria home on July 24, 2015, and died of her injuries eight days later. Two men have been charged with first-degree murder in her death, as well as other charges. Click to view larger
Marilyn Pharis, 64, was the victim of a violent assault in her Santa Maria home on July 24, 2015, and died of her injuries eight days later. Two men have been charged with first-degree murder in her death, as well as other charges. (Pharis family photo)

The allegation came at a brief hearing Friday morning before Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge John McGregor, who is presiding over the case against Victor Aureliano Martinez, 30, and Jose Villagomez, 21.

The two men are charged with first-degree murder in the brutal July 24, 2015, attack on 64-year-old Marilyn Pharis in her northwest Santa Maria home.

Pharis, an Air Force veteran and civilian employee at Vandenberg Air Force Base, died of her injuries eight days later.

The case has drawn national attention due to Martinez’s status as an undocumented immigrant with prior arrests.

Deputy Public Defender Lori Pedego, who represents Martinez, filed a discovery motion seeking information about an alleged Santa Maria police interview with her client, but McGregor postponed a ruling and the hearing was continued to Sept. 23.

The rationale for Pedego’s belief that an improper interview took place remained sealed and unavailable to prosecutors and to Villagomez’s defense attorney, Michael Scott.

Replying to a question from McGregor, Pedego said Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen’s response to the motion did not change her view that an improper interview took place.

Bramsen told the defense attorney the prosecution team had handed over discovery items.

“You indicated that the defense had just discovered that there was an interview that occurred for one hour prior to the recorded interview,” Bramsen wrote in a July letter to Pedego.
“I cannot find any evidence of such an interview taking place.”

Bramsen also said she asked the police officers identified by Pedego whether another interview occurred.

“I was told by each that they did not have any knowledge of another interview as alleged by the defense,” Bramsen said in her response to the Pedego’s motion.

Pedego said her sealed document spelled out why she believed her client had been subjected to an improper interview before being given his Miranda warning.

“As I indicated in my sealed documents, there are specific pieces of information that we believe show unequivocally that the police at the time of the recorded interrogation had information that was not articulated in any police report that we have received through discovery,” she said.

Jose Villagomez, right, with defense attorney Michael Scott, listens to proceedings Friday in a Santa Maria courtroom. Villagomez and co-defendant Victor Martinez are charged with first-degree murder in the 2015 death of Marilyn Pharis of Santa Maria. Click to view larger
Jose Villagomez, right, with defense attorney Michael Scott, listens to proceedings Friday in a Santa Maria courtroom. Villagomez and co-defendant Victor Martinez are charged with first-degree murder in the 2015 death of Marilyn Pharis of Santa Maria. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“And they only could come by that information if Mr. Martinez was subjected to specific questioning that I detailed in my papers under seal that showed that such prior interrogation did take place,” she added.

Pedego said she anticipated the District Attorney’s Office would investigate the officers who interacted with Martinez from the time of his arrest at 10 a.m. the day of the attack until the 7:30 p.m. recorded interview with the defendant.

Due to the sealed document, Bramsen said she could only speculate about Pedego’s claims.

At one point in the interview, the police detective and defendant discuss his prior interactions with law enforcement officers.

“If this statement was taken out of context it could be argued that there was a previous interview,” Bramsen said in her motion. “However, without knowing what is in defendant’s sealed declaration, this is simply my speculation.”

While McGregor appeared ready to unseal the defense documents, Pedego urged him not to, saying it would allow the police officers to change their story.

“I believe providing that information could result in ringing a bell that cannot be unrung,” she said.

Pharis was sexually assaulted, strangled and beaten with a hammer during a break-in at her home in the 900 block of North Dejoy Street. She died at Marian Regional Medical Center eight days later, on Aug. 1, 2015.

A preliminary hearing in the case is planned for late October.

In addition to murder, Martinez and Villagomez face numerous special circumstances, and Martinez also is charged with burglary.

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.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level
×

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >