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Defense attacks ex-wife's story of a confession

Defense attorneys say her statements about her ex-husband and two killings are the bitterness of a woman scorned.

By DAVID KARP

© St. Petersburg Times,
published May 31, 2001


TAMPA -- The murder case against Joaquin "Joe" Martinez began when his ex-wife telephoned a friend.

During the call, the friend asked if Sloane Martinez knew that two of her ex-husband's friends had been murdered in their Clair Mel home.

"Oh my God!" Mrs. Martinez said, according to the friend. "Joe did it!"

With those words and her assistance, investigators would eventually charge Martinez with two counts of first-degree murder.

As Martinez's trial opened Wednesday, the role of Martinez's ex-wife became the central issue in a 1995 murder case that has attracted international attention.

The Spanish ambassador and several Spanish senators sat in court Wednesday to support Martinez, a Spanish citizen living in Tampa.

A judge sentenced Martinez to death in 1997 after a jury convicted him of killing 26-year-old Douglas Lawson, a former co-worker, and Lawson's 26-year-old girlfriend, Sherrie McCoy-Ward. But the Florida Supreme Court overturned the convictions last year, and Martinez, 30, was granted a new trial.

Wednesday, prosecutor Chris Watson told the jury that Mrs. Martinez provided important information when she said her husband had confessed to killing someone. Martinez also asked her to help conceal the crime, Watson said.

At one point, he told her, "I am going to get the death penalty for what I did," Watson said.

But defense lawyers portrayed Mrs. Martinez as a gossip who jumped to conclusions and spread half-truths to hurt her ex-husband.

In their conversation, Martinez was talking about something else -- possibly about his guilt in having an affair, defense attorney Peter Raben said. He even told Mrs. Martinez, "I don't think we are talking about the same incident."

At the time that Mrs. Martinez went to investigators, her ex-husband had moved in with another woman. And though he showed little sign of returning to the marriage, he would still sleep with her, Raben said.

"Sloane was still madly in love with Joe and harbored the dream that she would one day be back together," he said.

Once, when Martinez spurned his ex-wife to go with his new girlfriend to Disney World on her birthday, Mrs. Martinez left a threatening message on his answering machine, Raben said.

"This is a birthday you will always remember," she said, according to Raben.

Another time, Mrs. Martinez told police that her husband's new girlfriend used drugs and was an unfit mother. She now acknowledges that it was a lie, Raben said.

"She is jealous, she is angry, she is vindictive," Raben said. "That's not what I call her. That's what she calls herself."

Prosecutors did not simply take Mrs. Martinez's word. Sheriff's officials listened in on a conversation and bugged her house to tape a conversation about the killings. But Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett threw out the tapes last week as inaudible.

Detectives could not find any fingerprints, blood, hair or fibers linking Martinez to the murder.

Prosecutors have said they will not seek the death penalty this time if they win a conviction.

The trial continues today.

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