The conflicting demands of a speedy trial and a competent legal defense are about to come to a head in the first-degree murder trial of Jeffrey Martinson.
He stands accused of killing his 5-year-old son and faces the death penalty.
Martinson’s defense team says it won’t be prepared to defend their client next week when jury selection is set to begin, despite getting the case in March 2008.
But rules put in place by the Arizona Supreme Court say a speedy trial in the case of first-degree murder means 18 months for the defense team to prepare and go to trial.
How to reconcile the two, the right to a speedy trial and legal counsel that is prepared, will be what Judge Timothy Ryan has to juggle when he makes a ruling this week to either affirm next week’s trial date, even though the defense says they have no witnesses and aren’t prepared to mount a defense; to grant a delay in a case that has now hung in the system for over 51 months; or to assign a new defense team, which will start the 18-month clock ticking again
When people think of a speedy trial, they usually picture an innocent defendant stuck in a jail, awaiting the trial that will set them free.
But in most cases, delays in trial hurt the victims more than the defendants.
The last major first-degree murder trial of an Ahwatukee Foothills defendant was Wendi Andriano. She was sentenced to death in 2004 after a jury found that she first tried to poison, then beat her husband, Joe Andriano, to death in their San Riva apartment.
That case took over four years to go to trial, and during that time Joe’s parents, Joe Senior and Jeanette Andriano, were stuck in legal and emotional limbo.
“My whole life was controlled by this,” said Joe Andriano Senior, a mild-mannered Pinal County farmer. “We tried to continue on with business, but if we were out of state and got a notice of a hearing we would come back,” often to find the hearing was continued to a later date.
“It just totally controlled everything we did,” Andriano said in 2005.
In the case of Martinson, the victim’s mother, and his ex-girlfriend, Kristin Eberle, have attended every court hearing, all three changes of defense attorneys, every continuance, as she awaits justice for the death of her son.
And that comes on top of allegations of abuse, both physical and mental, at the hands of Martinson while the two were together and then later during the visitations that Martinson had with his son, Joshua.
Competent legal counsel
Martinson’s lead defense attorney is Gary Bevilacqua, who said that from the beginning he wouldn’t be ready to defend his client until October 2010.
“Too many death cases and too few attorneys,” is how he summed up the problem in Maricopa County, which has more pending death penalty cases than Los Angeles County.
Publicly he’s pointed to the workload, including the death penalty trial of Shawn Grel, which ended in July with a conviction; the current robbery trial of Brandon Henderson, which will then be followed by his murder trial that is set to begin in January.
“We just want to be prepared,” said Joe Stazzone, the second attorney on the case.
But Keli Luther, an attorney who represents Eberle and her dead son Joshua, said that judges have set deadlines for work to be completed on the case.
Frustration on the prosecutor’s side boiled over when Deputy County Attorney Frankie Grimsman told Ryan on Friday, “They have been unwilling to compromise since they started, not even by two weeks. They will have October 2010 or they won’t play and I don’t think that’s fair.”
But Bevilacqua said that was an unfair representation, arguing that when they took the case last year they said it would take 30 months to finish up with the trials already scheduled and be prepared to defend Martinson.
The judge then allowed Bevilacqua and Stezzon to explain their preparations problems to Ryan in a private meeting without the prosecutors or other attorneys present.
A case of problems
Martinson’s case has been convoluted and full of delays from the beginning.
Initially he demanded, through his then-attorney Jim Cleary, that he wanted a speedy trial. But at the same time, he demanded not only the records on the outside laboratory that tested Joshua’s blood and found toxic levels of Soma, but all the maintenance records for the equipment used in the tests, as well as the maintenance manuals for the equipment.
Then a conflict was discovered between Cleary and Alan Simpson, an attorney hired by Martinson’s family to help in the defense. Cleary was replaced by Rena Glitsos but by 2008 she was replaced, and the reasons placed under seal, and Bevilacqua and Stazzone came on board.
The only continuity in the case were the records passed from one attorney to the next and Simpson. But last month, on the eve of the trial, Simpson also notified the court that he was withdrawing.
Luther told Ryan last week that “Mr. Simpson has been on this case since day one and now, on the eve of trial he withdraws … concerned it invites error,” setting up a successful appeal and the specter of a second trial.
Ryan is expected to make a ruling this week. Bevilacqua has said that if he is ordered to move forward with the start of the trial next week he would appeal the order to the appellate court.
“We just want to be prepared,” Stazzone said.