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Ventura County

Man Gets 10 Years in Slaying at Beach

Court: Judge rejects probation for Jose Martinez, who shot a man after his car window was broken.

July 31, 2001|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Ventura stock clerk was sentenced to 10 years in state prison Monday for fatally shooting a man during an argument at a beach-side sushi restaurant last December.

Superior Court Judge Charles McGrath rejected a defense plea for probation for 20-year-old Jose Martinez in the manslaughter case.

"His actions were extremely provocative and dangerous," McGrath said. "I don't think this is a probation case at all."

The sentence came as a relief to the family of Ventura carpenter Steven Jenkins, 23, who died after being shot outside Juro' Cho' Sushi on Seaward Avenue. Jenkins' family had urged McGrath to impose prison time for the slaying.

Martinez, a stocky man dressed in jail blues, said nothing during Monday's sentencing hearing. But he reassured his family as deputies walked him out of court.

"It's only 10," he said, referring to the sentence. "That's easy."

Martinez, who moved to Ventura last year from Nevada and stocked shelves at a local Target store, pleaded guilty in March to voluntary manslaughter. He had been charged with second-degree murder.

According to police, Martinez was driving on Seaward Avenue on Dec. 15 when a group of men approached his car, complained about his loud music and threw a rock through the car window.

Martinez left, but later returned to the scene with a baseball bat and an unloaded gun, according to witnesses who testified at his preliminary hearing.

He then drove to a Wal-Mart store in Oxnard to purchase ammunition.

About 10 p.m., Martinez returned to Seaward Avenue with his stepfather and brother-in-law to find those who vandalized his car--this time carrying a loaded firearm.

When Martinez entered the sushi restaurant, he was pushed out by the owner and surrounded by a crowd of diners. Martinez fired a warning shot.

He told police a second shot hit Jenkins when the gun accidentally discharged.

A witness testified at the preliminary hearing that Jenkins, who had not been part of the group that broke Martinez's window, had tried to knock the gun out of Martinez's hand.

During Monday's sentencing hearing, Kris Vance, the victim's mother, described the horror of seeing her only child clinging to life at a hospital.

"My son was going to die and there was nothing I could do about it," Vance said through tears. "I felt so helpless."

Vance and her husband, Jenkins' stepfather, told the judge their lives have been devastated by Martinez's actions.

"All this over a broken window," Vance said.

But defense attorney Robert Schwartz told the court his client never intended to kill anyone. Schwartz said Martinez used poor judgment, but has no prior record of violence and should be released on probation.

Alternately, Schwartz suggested, Martinez should be sentenced to six years in prison.

Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Jim Ellison countered that Martinez should face a maximum term of 21 years. Martinez was angry and looking for revenge on the night of the shooting, Ellison said, and should be held accountable.

McGrath disagreed with both lawyers and imposed a six-year sentence for the manslaughter charge and an additional four years for use of a firearm. Martinez must serve at least 8 1/2 years of the sentence.

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