FRESNO, Calif. – A suspected contract killer charged in central California with killing nine people confessed to investigators that he carried out up to 40 slayings in a career spanning decades, a prosecutor said Wednesday.
Errek Jett, the district attorney in Lawrence County, Ala., said Jose Manuel Martinez, 51, told investigators he carried out the crimes working as an enforcer for a drug cartel. Jett said they believe Martinez because of the details he gave investigators.
Martinez was arrested last year shortly after crossing the border from Mexico into Arizona and sent to Alabama, where he awaits trial on one murder charge. Once word got out, a steady stream of investigators from across the country came to question Martinez, Jett said.
Defense attorney Thomas Turner, who represents Martinez in that lone case, said his client is eager to start a June trial in Alabama, so he can return to California. Turner said Martinez maintains his innocence to the charge there and doesn’t seem to be a hardened killer.
“I’ve found him to be polite and a likable individual,” Turner said. “He has a good personality as far as talking with him.”
Prosecutors in California say otherwise.
Martinez targeted victims in Tulare, Kern and Santa Barbara counties between 1980 and 2011, said Tulare County Assistant District Attorney Anthony Fultz, who filed charges Tuesday.
Fultz said he is confident Martinez committed at least the nine killings he’s charged with, but he has heard higher figures from across the nation.
“We’re actually not sure what the full scope is,” Fultz said.