By SCOTT SMITH
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) -- A suspected contract killer charged with
killing nine people in three California counties over several decades is
being investigated in connection with other unsolved slayings across
the country, according to prosecutors.
Jose Manuel Martinez, 51, targeted victims in Tulare, Kern and Santa
Barbara counties between 1980 and 2011, Tulare County Assistant District
Attorney Anthony Fultz said. He was charged with the nine slayings on
Martinez has lived on and off in Richgrove, a small farming community
in Central California about 40 miles north of Bakersfield. He's now
being held in Alabama, awaiting trial in a 2013 slaying, and Fultz said
he's also wanted in Florida on suspicion of two killings there in 2006.
The California charges would make Martinez eligible for a death sentence, if he is convicted.
Fultz said he is confident Martinez committed at least the nine
killings he's charged with, but he has heard figures as high as 30 from
across the nation.
"We're actually not sure what the full scope is," Fultz said. "It will depend upon what the investigation shows."
Fultz declined to comment on any connection Martinez may have had
with drug cartels, saying he did not want to damage the case at this
early stage. Fultz said that too will remain under investigation.
Acting Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said his deputies came in
contact with Martinez investigating a rash of home invasion robberies
in late 2012 and early 2013. Martinez was at a home searched and
questioned by Sgt. Christal Derington, but not considered a suspect.
Attorney Michael Terry, who has represented Martinez in Alabama, declined to comment Wednesday in an email message.
Investigators have released some details of their case, saying six of
the victims were killed in Tulare County, two in Kern and one in Santa
Barbara. They ranged in age from 22 to 56, investigators said.
One man was shot dead in 1980 driving to work in the morning, while
two men were shot in 1982 working on a ranch, one surviving. The same
year, another man went missing before being found two days later by
ranchers shot and stabbed to death. Yet another was found in 2000 shot
to death in bed with his four children at home.
Investigators had long sought answers to the slayings, and they
received key information from Alabama authorities shortly after Martinez
was arrested in June 2013, Fultz said. Tulare County detectives,
including Sgt. Derington, have visited Alabama three times since, the
"They were able to then piece together the various murder cases we have filed," he said.
In addition to the nine murder counts, Martinez was charged in
California with one count of attempted murder and the special
circumstances of committing multiple murders, lying in wait, kidnapping
and murder for financial gain.
Of the nine, four murder charges include the allegation he committed the crime for financial gain, the criminal complaint says.
Fultz said authorities from the other California counties agreed to have Martinez tried in Tulare County.
Boudreaux said in a news conference that the case is far from completed.
"While this case has been filed, there is plenty of work to be done," he said.