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Local News

Man Found Guilty of First-Degree Murder for Marilyn Pharis’s Death

Jury also convicts Victor Ramirez Martinez, 32, of several special circumstance allegations, including robbery, burglary and use of a deadly weapon

Victor Ramirez Martinez Click to view larger
Victor Ramirez Martinez stands in court Wednesday as a Superior Court jury returns guilty verdicts against him on first-degree murder and other charges stemming from the 2015 death of Marilyn Pharis. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A Santa Maria man was convicted of first-degree murder and other charges Wednesday for the death of an Air Force veteran who was violently attacked in her Santa Maria home three years ago, leading to what a prosecutor called "a cascade of medical events" that claimed her life.

Afer deliberating for two days, a Santa Barbara County Superior Court jury of nine men and three women returned the verdict against Victor Ramirez Martinez, 32, late Wednesday afternoon.

Martinez was charged with attacking Marilyn Pharis in her home on the 900 block of North Dejoy Street on July 24, 2015.

In addition to finding Martinez guilty of first-degree murder, jurors determined several special circumstances were true, including robbery, burglary and sexual penetration with a foreign object. They also determined he used a deadly weapon the attack.

A mistrial was declared for the special circumstance allegation regarding torture, but that does not affect the expected sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Pharis died of a pulmonary embolism eight days after the 30-minute attack that left her face badly bruised and swollen, fractured the hyoid bone in her neck, and caused other injuries.

The prosecution team contended Pharis suffered a “cascade of medical events” that led to her death, while the defense has blamed allegedly poor medical care she received while at Marian Regional Medical Center.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the defendant is not on an even playing field with the doctors. They’re trying to save her life. They’re treating her for one medical complication after another, and they’re all directly related to the trauma,” Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen told the jury on Tuesday.

She added that the trauma inflicted by Martinez created “a substantial factor in this cascade of medical events that ultimately lead to her death.”

Martinez beat and strangled Pharis for 30 minutes, using his fists, a hammer and more in the attack

“Despite the fact the doctors did everything they could, Victor Martinez caused her death,” Bramsen said. “It’s just that simple. If he hadn’t broken into her home, broken into her bedroom, beaten her and strangled her, she’d be alive today.”

Denying that medical staff delayed treatment, Bramsen said the defense made “outrageous accusations” against some doctors and nurses in the community, and countered that they tried valiantly to save her life.

While the defense claimed the testimony of Dr. Manny Montez supported their case, Bramsen told jurors that his testimony was taken out of context or not actually said by the forensic pathologist.

Defense attorney Lori Pedego said Martinez did not intend to kill Pharis, adding he had the opportunity to kill her if he wanted to.

“That’s how we know exactly what his intent was, and it was not to kill. He fled when he rendered Ms. Pharis unconscious,” Pedego said. 

Pharis did not die from any the injuries inflicted on her during the attack, the defense attorney said. 

“She died of a pulmonary embolism on Aug. 1 as a result of the bad care she received at Marian Medical Center,” Pedego said.

“She received grossly improper treatment. That is the substantial cause of death,” Pedego said.

She called upon jurors to weigh the physical evidence against the testimony in determining a verdict.

“Use your common sense. You will return a verdict of not guilty on all counts,” Pedego said.

The attack by Martinez drew national media attention because of his status as an undocumented immigrant who had prior arrests for violent crimes.

After the verdicts were read, Bramsen said she was grateful to the jury. 

“They brought justice for Marilyn Pharis home today,” she said. “Nothing’s ever going to bring her back but at least this person who committed the most horrid, vicious offense a person can do will never hurt anyone again.”

She also thanked the doctors and nurses at Marian Regional Medical Center.

“They did an amazing job trying to save Marilyn’s life and they did everything right. Today we have a little piece of justice for Marilyn and her family," Bramsen added.

Throughout the trial that began nine weeks ago, Bramsen and colleague Fabiana Fede took turns questioning witnesses. 

“This was an incredibly difficult case for so many reasons, mostly because of the sheer level of violence and senselessness,” Bramsen said. “Marilyn was an amazing person who contributed significantly to our society. Somebody broke into her home and killed her in her own room. It’s a tragedy and I’m so thankful that justice was done.”

Judge John McGregor agreed to have attorneys return July 2 to set the date for when Martinez will be sentenced.

“Having been present during the autopsy, having met Marilyn Pharis’s family, there is an overwhelming feeling of sadness today," District Attorney Joyce Dudley said. "At the same time, there’s a deep appreciation for the work that the members of the Santa Maria Police Department and the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office because they’ve lived and breathed this case for three years. I’m in awe of all of them and I appreciate their efforts very much.”

His co-defendant, Jose Villagomez, 23, who was born in the United States, accepted a plea deal after the trial started, and will return to court in July, when he is expected to be sentenced to 25 years to life.

Due to the large number of potential jurors in the high-profile case, the trial started in one courtroom and moved to a second one to accommodate the dual juries plus alternates. Once Villagomez took a plea deal, the trial move to McGregor's regular courtroom, prompting him to comment, "This concludes our tour of various courtooms in this building."

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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