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Preliminary Hearing Set For Men Charged With Killing Marilyn Pharis

An attorney for a man charged with a brutal assault that led to the death of a Santa Maria woman in 2015 withdrew his motion claiming police improperly interviewed her client. 

With the motion withdrawn and no other issues remaining, a preliminary hearing is set to begin Dec. 12 before Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge John McGregor.

Victor Aureliano Martinez, 30, and Jose Villagomez, 21, 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.

Deputy Public Defender Lori Pedego contends her client’s statements to Santa Maria police were involuntary and made in violation of his Miranda rights.

The defense attorney previously had alleged “irrefutable evidence exists” that “at least one, if not more, unMirandized, unmemorialized, unrecorded interrogations of Mr. Martinez took place while Mr. Martinez was in custody.”

Pedego filed documents under seal — available to the only the defense attorney and judge — over the objections of Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen.

“After much consultation with our team, we have chosen to take the court up on its offer — that is the court will keep the sealed documents that are filled with attorney work product sealed,” Pedego said Friday morning.

Pedego’s action came after the judge’s order that would have required unsealing documents in support of the defense’s Miranda motion. 

Those documents refer to what the defense team called the involuntary nature of statements Martinez made to police after being taken into custody. One statement reportedly included Martinez saying, “I hit the woman in the face with a hammer,” but Pedego argued that use of the statement, with context, violated her client’s rights.

Bramsen said she did not object to withdrawing the motion and declaration in support of it. 

In response to a question from the judge, Pedego said the issue won’t come up during the preliminary hearing, but reserved the right to revisit the matter later. 

Defense attorney Michael Scott represents Villagomez, who was arrested several days after Martinez. 

The court has set aside four days, if needed, for the hearing to determine whether enough evidence exists for the men to stand trial.

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

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

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.

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