RIVERSIDE, Calif. - A cop killer who gunned down a Blythe store clerk during a 24-hour two-state crime spree was convicted today of first-degree murder and other charges, making him eligible for a second death sentence.
A Riverside jury deliberated three days before finding Ernesto Salgado Martinez guilty of the slaying of 43-year-old Randip Singh, using a handgun that belonged to a highway patrolman, whom the defendant shot dead the same day.
Along with the murder count, jurors found true special circumstance allegations of killing during a robbery and taking multiple lives. However, the panel acquitted Martinez of attempted murder in connection with a knife attack on a fellow jail inmate years later.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Charles Koosed scheduled the penalty phase of Martinez's trial to begin on Feb. 7 at the Riverside Hall of Justice. He faces either life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty.
Martinez, who is being held without bail at the Robert Presley Detention Center in Riverside, has been sentenced to death in Arizona for the 1995 slaying of Department of Public Safety Officer Robert K. Martin.
Martinez was on parole in late July 1995 when he stole a Chevrolet Monte Carlo in Indio and went to Arizona to look for family members, who had left California before his release from state prison.
Martinez drove through Arizona for several weeks, ending up northeast of Phoenix, traveling the Beeline (87) Highway between Payson and Scottsdale.
In the early afternoon of Aug. 15, 1995, Martinez went south on the Beeline Highway, en route to Phoenix, and began driving erratically, plowing through construction zones in excess of 80 mph, according to testimony from his Arizona trial in 1997.
As he approached Shea Boulevard, Martinez's reckless driving caught the attention of Martin, who was conducting speed enforcement along the highway. The 57-year-old patrolman pulled Martinez over on the shoulder of the highway.
A couple, Steve and Susan Bell, happened to drive by as Martin walked to the driver's side of the Chevrolet with his citation book in hand.
Less than a minute later, the Monte Carlo overtook them on the highway, and a couple of minutes after that, they saw two DPS patrol cars racing north on the highway, in the direction of where the traffic stop had occurred.
The witnesses then happened upon the Monte Carlo stuck in traffic due to road work and took down the plate information after getting a look at Martinez -- details that proved pivotal in convicting him.
Martin was shot four times, and his 9mm handgun was stolen, snatched by Martinez.
Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Chris Cook wrote in a trial brief that, shortly before 8 p.m. that day, Martinez reached Blythe, going into the Day N' Nite Mini Mart at 200 E. Hobson Way. The prosecutor said Martinez approached Singh, pulled out the 9mm handgun and shot the victim twice, inflicting a fatal wound to the chest.
The parolee then grabbed cash from the register and fled the location, according to the prosecutor.
By the following day, California law enforcement agencies had been alerted to the Arizona murder, as well as the vehicle involved. According to Cook, late in the morning of Aug. 16, 1995, an Indio police officer spotted the car on Forest Drive and called for backup.
Officers followed the Monte Carlo to 80-705 Indio Blvd., where Martinez dropped a cousin, the cousin's wife and their child at a friend's house, Cook said. He said that when Martinez saw the police cars nearby, he ran inside the house, causing the other occupants to flee.
Martinez dumped the .38-caliber revolver he'd used to kill Martin in the home, as well as the officer's 9mm pistol, then barricaded himself inside.
Following a three-hour standoff, during which Martinez insisted that police would never take him alive, he surrendered.
In December 2013, while awaiting trial and housed at the Robert Presley Detention Center, Martinez allegedly tried to kill a fellow inmate, Leroy Gutierrez, stabbing him 40 times with a homemade knife. Gutierrez survived the attack.