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Santa Maria Judge Denies Defense Motion For Man Charged In Marilyn Pharis’ Slaying

Jose Villagomez
Jose Villagomez

A Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge on Monday denied a motion to dismiss some of the charges faced by Jose Villagomez in connection with the death of Marilyn Pharis in Santa Maria in 2015.

Villagomez, 22, and Victor Aureliano Ramirez Martinez, 31, are charged in connection with the brutal attack on Pharis, a 64-year-old Air Force veteran, in her northwest Santa Maria home. She died at the hospital eight days after the July 2015 attack.

Judge James Voysey denied the motion filed by Villagomez’s attorney, Michael Scott, seeking dismissal of special circumstances alleging rape by instrument, burglary and robbery.

“Based on the facts of this case, the court is convinced that Mr. Villagomez was a major participant,” Voysey said in refusing to drop some charges.

Both men were charged with first-degree murder along with numerous special circumstances, with Martinez accused of committing the violent attack and facing additional charges.

In asking for dismissal of special circumstances, Scott argued the prosecution was required to present specific evidence Villagomez intended to aid and abet Martinez during the sexual assault.

“There is no evidence in the record that my client saw or knew that digital penetration even happened or was occurring,” Scott said.

During interviews with law enforcement, Villagomez spoke in future tense when he said he thought Martinez was going to sexually assault the victim, Scott said.

Victor Aureliano Ramirez Martinez
Victor Aureliano Ramirez Martinez

At one point during the attack, Villagomez walked to a window to look out, allegedly at the request of Martinez. But no evidence exists that shows Villagomez said anything to help Martinez, Scott said.

“The evidence was simply that my client walked to the window and looked out. He didn’t say anything that would in any way aid and abet the co-defendant in the crime,” Scott said. 

The defense attorney also sought to get other special circumstances dropped, contending his client thought Pharis’s house would provide a place to stay but that Villagomez was not a major participant and did not act with a reckless disregard to human life in the alleged crimes.

“They did not enter with the intention to rob or sexually assault anybody,” Scott said. “The evidence is also very clear my client never touched the victim.”

Scott said a higher standard is required for the non-killer to be charged with the special circumstances, and required substantially more proof of involvement to find Villagomez a major participant in the crime.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen argued that Villagomez saw Martinez beating Pharis and allegedly believed he was going to sexually assault her.

“And knowing that, at the request of Mr. Martinez, he went and looked out the window to see if there was anyone coming, allowing Mr. Martinez the precious time he needed to commit the crime,” Bramsen said.

She added that the charge can remain whether the crime or an attempt occurred, creating “more than sufficient evidence” for the judge to hold Villagomez to answer to the charges after the preliminary hearing last year.

Villagomez saw his co-defendant beating the woman “nearly to death,” Bramsen said. 

“The photographs and testimony on her injuries are nothing short of horrific,” she added. 

“He’s a major participant and his reckless indifference to human life is disgusting,” Bramsen said. “He sees what’s going on, he knows what’s happening to this older lady, he does nothing  except assist in looking out the window to make sure there’s more time to continue the crime.”

After being told Pharis had died, Villagomez shrugged his shoulders, said it’s not his problem, and asked to see a picture of the dead woman, Bramsen added.

Voysey said the defendants' claims they were seeking a place to stay and store their belongings was not credible. 

While Martinez allegedly assaulted Pharis, hitting her to the point she fell unconscious three times, Villagomez could have attempted to halt the attacks, but didn’t, Voysey said.

Regarding the other special circumstance, Bramsen said Villagomez had coins belonging to Pharis, although there are disputes which defendant put the money into the backpack. 

The case returns to court May 18, with the confirmation of the trial date planned for Aug. 3. The trial, which is expected to last five to six weeks, is set to begin Aug. 14. 

Martinez is represented by attorney Lori Pedego. 

 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.

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