Jeffrey Martinson's defense counsel will have to dig deeper for evidence after Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sally Duncan rejected its request to use the medical records of his deceased son and the son's mother in the defendant's murder trial.
Martinson, 43, of Ahwatukee Foothills is charged with the first-degree murder of his 5-year-old son, Joshua Eberle-Martinson, and faces the death penalty if found guilty.
During an oral argument proceeding Sept. 24, Duncan denied the defendant's motion for the records on the grounds that such a request violates a statute in the Arizona Constitution, but she ordered the Martinson defense team to interview doctors in case evidence arises for Duncan to reconsider its request.
The defense's motion, filed in 2007, claims it seeks the records because Eberle may have taken the acne treatment medication Accutane - having caused a high percentage of birth defects among its pregnant users' children - within the first 10 days of her pregnancy with Joshua. The defense reasons that understanding the natal health of Eberle and her son for its defendant's trial outweighs their rights to privacy, as the cause of death will be a factor in Martinson's fate. However, these allegations conflict with the details of Joshua's death.
In the months leading up to Joshua's death between Aug. 28 and 29, 2004, Martinson and Joshua's mother, Kristin Eberle, had become embroiled in a custody battle over their son, and Eberle expressed her desire for Martinson's visitations with Joshua to be supervised, according to Phoenix police. Child Protective Services was notified after Martinson failed to deliver Joshua to Eberle after a weekend visitation.
Upon arriving at Martinson's Ahwatukee Foothills apartment, police found Joshua dead in a top bunk in a bedroom, and Martinson lying unconscious in the master bedroom with minor cuts on his wrist. Empty prescription canisters, plastic bags with tape and an empty bottle of liquor purchased that day were strewn about the household. Blood analysis revealed Joshua had been moved since the time of his death.
When asked if he could have accidentally killed his son, Martinson said, "I may have, I don't remember," according to the police report. He had no explanation for the death of his son, and stated along with Eberle that Joshua had no prior medical problems.
Martinson's neighbor, who was interviewed by police, said that she saw Martinson the day before appearing upset and depressed. She received a text message from him later that evening that said, "We loved you and will miss you."
The medical examiner determined the cause of death to be an overdose of muscle relaxants with the possibility of asphyxiation as a contributing factor.
The State of Arizona v. Jeffrey Martinson capital case has been in the legal system for six years, and four defense teams have filed numerous motions and extensions.
Martinson's current attorney, Michael Terribile, said that the state of Arizona is to blame for overwhelming public defense lawyers with cases, leaving those charged with capital offenses to preoccupied attorneys or no attorneys at all. The change in policy to increase the number of death penalties sought by Maricopa County, administered by then-Maricopa County Attorney General Andrew Thomas, left about 12 murder defendants without representation, according to published reports.
Maricopa County Attorney Frankie Grimsman has been the prosecuting attorney in the case since Martinson was charged with murder in 2004.
"I'm frustrated; (Kristen Eberle) is very frustrated. It's ridiculous that this case has not reached trial. The child would have been 11 years old," Grimsman said, adding that her prosecution has been in limbo between moving to trial against the demands of Martinson's attorneys - which would increase his chance to appeal upon a guilty verdict - and continuing to wait for them to conclude preparations, when it has long grown impatient with their delays.
The most recent trial date has been set for April 2011.
Ben Backhaus is a sophomore at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.