Efrain Martinez sits in a cell at the Durango Jail dressed like a criminal in a black-and-white -striped jumpsuit even though he says he committed no crime. Thirty-one days have passed since the 32-year-old undocumented Mexican immigrant arrived at the Maricopa County jail, accused of shooting a gun at former Mesa council candidate JT Ready.
Ready, a concealed-weapons instructor and anti-immigration activist, says he shot back in self-defense. Martinez, who gave a different name when arrested, denies the allegations and said that parts of the story he told police were lost in translation.
On April 20 at 2 p.m., both men will face off again when Martinez goes before a judge to fight the charges of assault and threatening and intimidation.
Martinez’s account of the March 9 incident differs drastically from the story that Ready told police and the media during a news conference he held several days before the election.
Martinez was charged based on Ready’s version of events — police said Martinez’s story was inconsistent. But Martinez thinks police misunderstood him because of the language barrier.
The incident has raised eyebrows about the way police handled the investig- ation. They interviewed him in English even though Martinez says he cannot “speak, write or read” the language well. He even told the officer before the interview that he could not speak English well.
“There are obviously a lot of disparities in the facts of the case, and no one knows what happened and everyone has a motivation to lie,” said Garrett Smith, an attorney who is being paid $165 to defend Martinez. “It is very important to get the right story here.”
Martinez says he’s been in the United States for five years. He left California at the beginning of this year and came to Arizona in search of construction jobs.
For the first time since he was arrested, Martinez agreed to share his story. The Tribune interviewed him twice in Spanish recently at the Durango Jail.
THE MARCH 9 INCIDENT
Ready has told police that he saw Martinez emerge from a red truck full of Hispanic passengers, point a gun at him and pull the trigger.
He said he shot back with his gun and called 911.
Although he admits having a BB gun, Martinez has repeatedly denied pointing or shooting it.
He said he was at a park shooting at plastic bottles with a BB gun he had recently purchased at Wal-Mart.
He was not with a large group as Ready suggested, but was walking by himself.
He also said he was not traveling with the people in the red truck. He said he doesn’t know them and that they approached him to ask for directions.
Then he saw Ready’s car approaching. It appeared to be following the truck. Martinez said Ready emerged from his car and fired a shot at the truck.
Martinez said he ran away and sought help from the red truck, but the driver wouldn’t stop. He called out for help in broken English to a police officer, he says.
Police pulled over the red truck, which had about 10 people inside, according to police reports. They searched for weapons and when they found none, they let everyone go. They were not questioned, although the driver told police she did not know Martinez — a claim that could have corroborated a portion of Martinez’s story.
A DVD of the interview between detective Kevin Albrecht and Martinez begins with Martinez telling the officer that he can’t speak English very well. Albrecht tells him he’ll get a translator if necessary and that he just wants to ask some questions. Albrecht also tells him there are no charges at this point.
The officer reads Martinez his rights. Martinez says he doesn’t understand, and asks to see the card. He reads aloud the first line, then appears to mouth through the rest. At the end, he repeats back the last line on the card.
The officer and Martinez are able to have a conversation. Martinez speaks with limited English, frequently mixing Spanish words into his phrases. At times he says phrases in English, and other times he reverts into Spanish.
He uses his hands a lot to tell the story and makes sound effects.
In the interviews with the Tribune, Martinez says he believes his rights were violated.
He says he didn’t even know the charges against him. He thought he was being detained because he’s in the country illegally, and because he had a BB gun.
“If you don’t speak Spanish, and I speak Spanish, you’re only going to say ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ ” Martinez said in Spanish.
Police say the detective who conducted the interview was confident in Martinez’s English abilities.
“The detective was asking him questions and he was giving them answers,” said Sgt. Chuck Trapani. “He believed Martinez understood his questions because the responses to the questions were reasonable.”
However, in a police report, Albrecht writes that he decided to interview Martinez even though “I discovered (Martinez) was a Spanish speaker, but he did speak some English.”
“There were no Spanish-speaking detectives available so I continued with the interview,” Albrecht wrote.
Smith intends to make a motion to have that interview scratched from the record.
“The fact they don’t have an interpreter is not an excuse here,” Smith said. “There are plenty on the force (who speak Spanish) and it seems like the whole thing was just rushed.”
Police also would not let Martinez look up anyone’s number in his cell phone to make his phone call, both Martinez and police say. Prisoners are allowed access to phone books, but there is no set rule about allowing prisoners to look up numbers in their phones, police said.
Martinez did not have any numbers memorized, and even now, he said his family, friends and his girlfriend still don’t know he’s in jail.
Stephen Montoya, an attorney specializing in civil liberties, said Mesa should be concerned about the way police handled this investigation regardless of whether Martinez is telling the truth.
“This should be a lesson to the city of Mesa,” he said. “If they don’t want valid criminal cases to be thrown out of court by a judge, then they should make sure that police officers are available who speak Spanish.”
Martinez was charged under the name of Eduardo Godina. But he says that was the name he gave police because it was the name on papers he had purchased on the street.
Police say they ran his fingerprints and the prints came back under a different name. They have not amended the complaint to charge him under a name other than Eduardo Godina.
After serving 18 days in jail, Martinez finally was given a lawyer. He was offered a chance to plead guilty in exchange for serving only two more days.
He refused, not because he knew he’d be deported, but because he wants to clear his name.
His desire to go to trial outweighs enduring countless days of meager meals, uncomfortable living quarters and above all, a place where he says he’s nothing more than a “fantasma” — a ghost.
“I say that if they want to convict me for telling the truth, then let them convict me,” he said.
THE INVISIBLE MAN
Martinez’s desire to go to trial is a decision that Ready can’t understand, but he is more than willing to testify.
“What is really his motivation of doing that?” Ready asked. “That doesn’t make sense. He was caught red-handed.”
Martinez described himself as a tranquil person without a criminal record, saying he’s never tried to hurt anyone.
Martinez makes no excuses about how he got to the United States. He purchased false papers so he could work.
While Martinez does not want to get deported, he’s also not interested in becoming a citizen. He hopes to return to Mexico one day to be with his family.
“I respect this country,” he added. “It has opportunities that you don’t have in Mexico to obtain a better life.”
If anything, the entire incident has provoked a lot of soul-searching.
Martinez, who is Catholic, says he prays each night before he goes to sleep in the jail.
“I say to God, ‘What has become of my life?’ ” Martinez said with a sigh.
“I can’t get it through my head. I’m not guilty of the things they’re accusing me of.”
He has no money to post bail. He can’t even afford to buy stamps and write a letter to tell his family where he is.
Eduardo Godina exists only on a piece of paper.
And now, Efrain Martinez doesn’t exist, either.
He says the suitcase he left in his shared apartment on Vineyard in Mesa contained his birth certificate, a Mexican passport and a second cell phone with the numbers of his girlfriend, his 6-year-old daughter and his sister in Los Angeles.
Other residents of the complex say the couple Martinez lived with have moved since he was jailed, and the suitcase went with them.
When the new tenants moved into the apartment about two weeks ago, there was no trace of a man named Efrain Martinez.
He had become a ghost.
In about two weeks when he meets his accuser once again, he hopes to finally assert his identity.
• Saw some Latinos jumping fences, hiding behind bushes and driving in a red truck with its lights off
• Called a nonemergency number to report suspicious activity
• Saw Martinez get in the red truck
• Followed truck to a dead-end road
• Martinez got out, truck drove off, and Martinez pointed a gun
• Ready jumped out of his moving vehicle, Martinez fired, Ready returned fire
• Ready dialed 911
• Martinez ran away
• Was shooting plastic bottles in a park with his BB gun
• Was by himself
• Did not know people in the red truck, wasn’t riding in the truck
• Truck stopped to ask for directions
• Ready’s car turned down the street in pursuit of the truck
• Ready jumped out of the car and fired a gun
• Martinez got scared and ran away, tried to call for help