Two men charged with violently attacking a woman in her Santa Maria home last year will stand trial for her murder, a Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge ruled Wednesday.
Judge John McGregor handed down his ruling after listening to more than two days of evidence in the preliminary hearing for Victor Aureliano Martinez, 30, and Jose Villagomez, 21.
The men are accused of entering a home on North Dejoy Street on July 24, 2015, and attacking 64-year-old Marilyn Pharis, who died eight days later.
“The court will find there is sufficient evidence the following crimes occurred and that the defendants participated in them,” McGregor said.
The pair will be tried for first-degree murder, plus numerous special circumstances, including robbery, burglary, and rape for by foreign object.
Martinez will face an additional special circumstance for torture and a special allegation for use of a deadly weapon, identified as a hammer.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen told the judge a “plethora of evidence” exists in the case, adding that Pharis was severely beaten with fists, hit with a hammer, and strangled three times to the point she lost consciousness.
“What we know is Ms. Pharis was fighting for her life. She fought and fought and fought and survived,” Bramsen said. “He wasn’t going to allow that to happen so each time she regained consciousness, after he violently strangled her to the point where her hyoid bone was fractured, he would strangle her again, he would beat her again.
“And then when she was limp and lying there, he decided to insert his fingers into her vagina. When you look at the totality of what happened, to say he didn’t intend to inflict pain and suffering for sadistic purpose just flies in the face of the facts,” Bramsen added.
The defendants blamed each other for breaking into the house and taking a bucket coins, totaling $200. A stake used to pry open the door had Martinez’s DNA on it, Bramsen said, although Villagomez also admitting to participating.
Bramsen noted the testimony of Dr. Manuel Montez, forensic pathologist, who spelled out the numerous injuries Pharis suffered from the blunt-force trauma.
Defense attorney Lori Pedego, who represents Martinez, said the case did not include any evidence that Martinez intended to cause suffering or pain, or proof she was hit with a hammer.
“We have no words used by Mr. Martinez during the assault,” Pedego said. “The cases that support a finding of torture typically are accompanied by statements … that show the intent of the perpetrator to cause the subject pain. We have none of that in this case.”
She also argued no physical evidence existed proving Martinez raped the victim, who reportedly gave different stories about whether she was sexually assaulted.
The defense attorney contended her client never said he inserted his fingers in her vagina.
“Not only did he not say he did not do it, we have no physical evidence to support it,” she said.
While Martinez is accused of being the primary defendant, Villagomez is alleged to have been an accomplice who was a major participant and displayed a reckless indifference to human life, Bramsen said.
“He admitted and showed his reckless indifference to human life not only during the incident, but during the interview. He shrugged his shoulders when he hears she’s dead, and then in the third interview he wants to see clear evidence she’s dead,” Bramsen said.
Upon seeing seeing Martinez assault the woman, Villagomez went to the window check if anybody was coming so they could escape if needed, Bramsen added.
Defense attorney Michael Scott, who represents Villagomez, said the men were simply looking for a vacant house to sleep in and store their possessions.
He argued there was no proof of burglary or robbery, with conflicting reports of who took the coins, which reportedly were found in a backpack Martinez had at the time police arrested him.
Scott also added it is not clear when Villagomez went to the window to look outside.
“Is going to the window a crime? It is not,” Scott said,
As to why Villagomez asked for pictures of the dead woman, Scott said the defendant sought proof to ensure police were telling the truth.
The judge ordered the men and attorneys to return to court for arraignment Jan. 19.