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Skeins of murder trial entangle many

In the retrial of Joaquin Martinez, a deputy turns to a transcript prepared by the father of one of the victims.


© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 5, 2001

TAMPA -- As he sat on the witness stand, the sheriff's deputy kept looking at a transcript he held in his hands.

The prosecutor would ask Richard Figueredo what he remembered from a secretly recorded conversation he overheard more than five years ago. Figueredo would consult the transcript before answering.

And so it went for much of Figueredo's hourlong testimony last week against Joaquin Martinez, charged with first-degree murder in the killing of two people in Clair Mel six years ago.

The jury didn't hear the recordings of the conversation between Martinez and his ex-wife. Judge J. Rogers Padgett had decided the tapes were inaudible. But Figueredo had listened while the recordings were made, so Padgett agreed he could testify about what he heard.

It's not unusual for a detective to rely on notes during testimony. But Figueredo didn't take notes of the conversation. So all he had to go on was the transcript, which wasn't prepared by the Sheriff's Office.

Instead, this key piece of evidence against Martinez was prepared by the father of one of the slaying victims.

William Lawson was more than a grieving father. He also was the evidence manager for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. Devastated by the death of his son, Douglas, and his son's girlfriend, Sherrie McCoy-Ward, Lawson offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to a conviction.

He also persuaded prosecutor Nick Cox to give him a copy of a recording of Martinez talking to his ex-wife, Sloane. Prosecutors say Martinez made incriminating statements during that conversation that led to his arrest.

William Lawson and a niece, a stenographer for the Tampa Police Department, listened to the tape recording and prepared a transcript. The transcript was later edited by Mrs. Martinez and detectives.

"We have never heard of anything like this in a case," said Martinez's attorney, Peter Raben.

Technically, the transcript isn't evidence. Witnesses are merely relying on it to jog their memory.

Martinez was first tried in 1997. He was sentenced to death but is being retried because the Florida Supreme Court overturned the conviction and ordered a new trial. He does not face the death penalty in this trial.

Martinez is accused of killing the couple, both 26, in their secluded home in Clair Mel in October 1995. Douglas Lawson was shot several times with a 9mm gun; McCoy-Ward was shot and stabbed more than 20 times as she tried to reach the front door to escape.

From the beginning, there were few clues. Little inside the log cabin home was disturbed. Ground beef had been left on the stove, and two Rottweilers were locked inside an upstairs bedroom. No money was missing.

A break came three months later. Martinez's ex-wife called authorities and said Martinez might have been involved in the killings. Martinez had once worked with Douglas Lawson at a company in Tampa.

Mrs. Martinez gave a statement to a sheriff's deputy and agreed to let investigators bug her house. In another odd twist, Mrs. Martinez later became close friends with Deputy Cherie Kennedy-Newmann, who took her statement. Mrs. Martinez and her two children moved in with Kennedy-Newmann. Later, she made Mrs. Martinez her maid of honor at her wedding.

On Jan. 28, 1996, Mrs. Martinez invited her ex-husband to her apartment and asked him about the murders. Unknown to him, detectives and former prosecutor Karen Cox were listening from undercover cars in the parking lot.

Mrs. Martinez said her ex-husband asked her to help him create an alibi. He also appeared confused by Mrs. Martinez's questions. "I don't know if we are talking about the same case here," he said, according to authorities.

Detectives listening outside arrested Martinez soon after he left the apartment.

In a deposition last December, William Lawson first denied helping prepare the transcript. But after defense lawyers showed him his name on an original copy of the transcript, he acknowledged taking the tape home. "I never told nobody except Mr. Cox," he said.

Sheriff's spokesman Rod Reder said officials won't comment on Lawson's role in the case until after the trial. Nick Cox, now with the Attorney General's Office, declined comment.

A month after the deposition, Lawson, 66, died suddenly from natural causes.

Now, the transcript he created has taken on a larger role in Martinez's trial because Mrs. Martinez, once the state's star witness, wants to help her ex-husband, whom she visits in prison regularly.

She says she acted out of jealousy and anger, according to Raben, Martinez's lawyer. Mrs. Martinez had told police that her ex-husband's new girlfriend used drugs and was an unfit mother. She later said that was a lie, Raben said.

"Don't be shocked if the prosecution does not put (Mrs. Martinez) on the stand," said Raben.

The prosecution rested its case Tuesday without calling her.

Raben said prosecutors may prefer to use detectives who remember the taped conversation.

In January, however, Figueredo said in a deposition that he couldn't remember the exact words. Just before trial, he listened to the tapes again.

On the witness stand last week, he kept looking at the transcript, reading through parts of it page by page.

The trial is expected to continue for most of this week.

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