Chandler family awaits sentencing decision in murder case - East Valley Tribune: Columns

Chandler family awaits sentencing decision in murder case

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Mike Sakal’s column runs on Fridays. Contact him at (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com, or write to Mike Sakal, East Valley Tribune, 1620 W. Fountainhead Pkwy., Suite 219, Tempe, AZ 85282

Posted: Thursday, October 27, 2011 1:48 pm | Updated: 3:51 pm, Thu Nov 3, 2011.

During the closing arguments in the defense of Jesus Arturo Martinez Jr. facing a life sentence or the death penalty for the 2007 murder of Chandler mother, wife and convenience store owner Nisay Kang, Maricopa County Legal Defender Dawn Sinclair told the jury deciding his fate:

"We all get dealt a hand in life. One of the things you're given when you're born is the ability of how to play that hand. Jesus Arturo Martinez had ineffective ability to deal with the hand he had been dealt."

A series of life's problems affected how he played that hand, Sinclair argued. That included his parents separating when Arturo Martinez, 24, was a boy, and drug abuse that led to problems at school and relapses in his adult life. But Sinclair insisted that Arturo Martinez was a different person without the drugs.

But now, the horrific murder Arturo Martinez committed and the hand he dealt to Kang's family will determine his future. Kang's husband, Paul Ea, is supporting the death penalty, and a 15-member jury has been deliberating since Tuesday to make a decision.

Although the murder of Kang, 36, was among many in the East Valley I covered during 2007, this one was somewhat up-close and personal for me.

I lived at the former Peaks at Papago Park, a 768-unit apartment complex at 815 N. 52nd St. in east Phoenix near the Tempe and Scottsdale borders at the time of the crime.

I somewhat knew Kang and Ea, a Cambodian couple. They had owned and operated the store inside the complex for only a few months. Nisay was pursuing her dream of owning her own business and the couple's goal was to make a little extra money from it to sock away for their retirement years.

The news alert from Phoenix police arrived in my email box at work soon after Arturo Martinez killed Kang inside the store by beating and stabbing her to death. Witnesses saw Arturo Martinez walking near the back of the store carrying Kang's purse that police later confiscated along with blood-stained currency and other evidence from the crime.

I had been in the store the night before, minutes before Kang and her husband, Paul Ea, closed it early to go shopping. As usual, I purchased a can of Sunkist Orange pop before sitting by the swimming pool next to the store to unwind for the evening.

When I first received the email about the homicide, I saw the address, but was not sure exactly where the crime happened.

As I made the short drive from the Tribune's former Scottsdale office to the complex that May morning, it was warm and sunny. After seeing the crime tape around a building near the back of the complex, I thought I'd stop in the store and get a can of Sunkist before proceeding to the crime scene. However, when I pulled my car into my parking space, I looked over and saw all the police vehicles and television news vans parked around the store. In a matter of minutes, one of the police department's media representatives informed a small group of news reporters that Kang had been killed inside the store and a man who lived at the complex had been arrested in connection with her death.

My heart sank. I just had been in the store the night before; had I been sitting outside during the horrific crime?

Although I did not know Kang and Ea personally, they were people I often made small talk with when I went inside the store. They were always congenial and friendly with customers. Their then-8-year-old daughter, Alisa, often sat behind the counter watching a video on the VHS or doing her homework.

Not that I ever wanted to, but I now can say I knew someone who was murdered.

Also in my years of covering crime and public safety for the Tribune, I have become a victim of crime myself from a burglary committed inside my apartment at the Peaks of Papago Park in early 2008.

My cousin also has become a victim of crime. A car he was trying to sell through a friend was stolen off a used car lot. The car was later recovered stripped along a street in a bad neighborhood. A few days after that, my cousin received a speed photo enforcement ticket in the mail, showing the thief behind the wheel. My cousin just shook his head and laughed a little before being inconvenienced by making another phone call to court personnel to inform them that he had reported the car stolen.

Being a victim of crime opens your eyes, puts you on edge, causes you to lose sleep and definitely makes you angry.

I can't imagine how much pain and anger Ea felt these last few years as Arturo Martinez's court proceedings played out, losing something he never will recover, Alisa growing up without a mother, Kang's mother, Charoun Nhoek, knowing she has outlived her daughter.

But their lives are moving forward.

Ea, a Buddhist, traveled back to Cambodia with his family to participate in the 100-day ceremony of Kang's death. It is a ceremony in which the spirit of the deceased moves on, and would allow Ea to move on as well.

Ea said he feels better now that the chapter in his life of Arturo Martinez is coming to a close.

In May, 2010, Ea married Mey Kim, a Cambodian woman his sister introduced him to. Ea and Kim now have a son, Alexander, who is 3-and-a-half months old. Alisa, now 13, is doing well in school and learning to play the violin. Kang's mother helps Ea and Kim with Alexander.

"I am looking forward to a new chapter in my life," Ea said. "This has been holding me back for the last four years. Before the hearings, I was somewhat at ease. The hearings brought all the pain back again.

"But I know there is light at the end of the tunnel. I am looking forward to moving on with my new family."

• E.V. Life runs on Fridays. Contact Mike Sakal at (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com or write to Mike Sakal, East Valley Tribune, 1620 W. Fountainhead Pkwy., Suite 219, Tempe, AZ 85282.

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