In the end it was an old story, District Attorney Scott Colom said Friday, moments after an Oktibbeha County jury found Lydia Martinez, 61, guilty of first-degree murder in the 2015 shooting death of her son-in-law, 40-year-old Manuel Vasquez.
After the seven-woman, five-man jury delivered its verdict following 3 ½ hours of deliberation, Judge Lee Coleman dismissed the jury then handed down the only available sentence — life imprisonment.
Martinez’s daughter, Christina Martinez, 44, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of her husband in 2019 and is awaiting sentencing.
“You see this all the time,” Colom said in a near-empty courtroom minutes after the trial’s end. “Two people do a crime and when it all starts to fall apart, they begin turning on each other, pointing fingers at each other. That’s what happened in this case.”
That scenario played out in court Friday morning when defense attorney Arthur Calderón of Cleveland called both women to testify, the last two witnesses to take the stand in four days of testimony.
Both women admitted to concealing Vasquez’s body after the June 24, 2015, shooting, ultimately burning his remains in a galvanized water trough and scattering some of his remains in a wooded area on the property of the New Hope home the women shared with Vasquez’s and Christina’s three teenaged children.
Both admitted they told everyone that Vasquez had left on a three-week religious retreat to explain his absence.
But their testimony diverged dramatically when testifying about the fatal moments when two shots were fired into Vasquez’s body, each claiming that the other had fired the shots.
Christina Martinez testified that she was sleeping in another downstairs bedroom when she heard a loud bang. She said she left the room and saw her mother with a gun in her hand.
“You asked your mother what was going on and you said Lydia made a comment that she shot Manuel, right?” Calderón asked.
“Yes,” Christina said, saying that both women then re-entered the master bedroom and that upon hearing “gurgling noises,” Lydia pointed the gun toward Vasquez. While Christina was struggling to take the gun away from her mother, she claimed, another shot went off, striking Vasquez in the hip area.
“You admitted to killing your husband, didn’t you?” asked Calderón, holding up a transcript of her 2019 guilty plea to second-degree murder.
“I did not,” Christina responded. “I admitted to burning his body.”
“I’m pretty sure that would have been a different charge,” Calderón said.
Lydia Martinez’s account of the shooting began as she was upstairs with the children and heard a loud noise. She said she went downstairs to investigate, but after checking the doors, didn’t see anything unusual.
She said she returned upstairs and later heard another pop and went back downstairs.
“That’s when I saw Christina coming out of her room and she told me she had shot Manuel and I told her, ‘Why did you do that?’ and she said, ‘I just snapped,’” Lydia said. “That’s what she told me.”
‘I was afraid’
Lydia said her daughter began telling her they had to hide the body. Lydia said she told her daughter they should instead call the cops, but “Christina kept saying no.”
“She told me that if I didn’t do what she told me, she was going to shoot (the children) in the arm or the leg and make them suffer and let them know it was my fault what was going on with them,” Lydia said.
On cross examination, Colom noted that Lydia Martinez first mentioned the threats against the children in November 2015 during media interviews after being bonded out of jail on an accessory to murder charge.
Colom said that during multiple law enforcement interviews she had never mentioned the threat as law enforcement began their investigations.
Lydia Martinez said she had told law enforcement of the threats, but that that part of her statement had been omitted from the recordings and the transcripts.
“So this is a big frame-up,” Colom said, incredulous. “Is that what you are saying?”
“I just know I told them, I did,” Lydia responded.
Colom asked her about her interview with sheriff’s deputies on July 21.
“You were alone with two officers and you know the children were in police custody and they were safe,” Colom said.
“There were what, 20 cops there? Wouldn’t that have been the perfect time to tell them, ‘Hey, Christina shot Manuel and she’s going to hurt the children?’”
Lydia said she was afraid to mention the threats because she saw three Black men and a woman standing near the end of the driveway and she feared that Christina had sent them to make sure Lydia did not reveal the threats.
“So there you were with 20 cops around and you see three random Black men and you think you’re not safe?” Colom asked.
“I was afraid,” she said.
Colom then challenged Lydia on her claim that on July 22, 2015, Christina drugged her with pain-killers, made her write a suicide/confession letter then drink antfreeze before her daughter slit her wrist.
Colom noted that in previous testimony, her granddaughter, Alexia Vasquez, had said Christina had remained downstairs with Alexia for most of the day, only briefly checking on Lydia in Lydia’s upstairs bedroom.
He also asked Lydia how it could be that paramedic Amy Richardson testified that Lydia had confessed and implicated family friend Paul Vega in the murder during the ambulance ride to the hospital that day.
“She didn’t know you, she didn’t know your family, she didn’t know Paul Vega,” Colom said. “So what you’re saying doesn’t make sense.”
Lydia said she was in a semi-conscious state, didn’t remember the confession to Richardson and that if she said that, it was because her daughter had “put that story in my mind.”
Colom noted that Lydia repeated the confession to a sheriff’s officer after arriving at the hospital a short time later.
‘They’re both liars’
In closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Ben Lang told the jury, “We may never know who pulled the trigger, but that’s OK.”
He noted the first-degree murder statute includes aiding and abetting as grounds for conviction.
“They’re both liars,” he said. “Both want to hide the truth. The truth is that together they planned this murder and then tried to cover it up.”
Asked about his decision to elevate the charge against Lydia Martinez from accessory after the fact to first-degree murder in 2019, Colom said he was convinced both women played active roles in the murder.
“Really, there was more evidence against Lydia than Christina, so I couldn’t get past that,” Colom said. “Christina admitted her guilt. But she wasn’t the one that had made two confessions. That was Lydia. It was obvious that Lydia had to be held accountable for the murder, too. They were in it together. That’s what the facts showed and what the jury said today.”
The Dispatch was unable to speak with Calderón for a comment after the trial.
Manuel’s mother, Mary Sanchez, who had watched the trial in the gallery each day, reacted quietly to the verdict.
“Justice was done,” she said softly. ”That is all we wanted — justice.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]