A judge ruled Wednesday that there was sufficient evidence to hold the two men accused of murdering Marilyn Pharis in 2015 to all charges.

At the conclusion of the three-day preliminary hearing, Santa Maria Superior Court Judge John McGregor ruled that Victor Martinez and Jose Villagomez now must answer to the first-degree murder of the 64-year-old Pharis.

In addition, Martinez also must answer to the special circumstances of murder with torture. The judge also found that the special allegation, use of a hammer to attack Pharis, was true. For both men, the special circumstances of murder in commission of robbery, burglary and penetration with a foreign object also were found to be true.

During her argument, Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen, who is prosecuting the case with Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Karapetian, said that Pharis was severely beaten with fists, then a hammer, and was strangled three times until she lost consciousness.

"Mr. Martinez claimed during an interview that he didn't intend to kill her, but he did so that she couldn't identify him," Bramsen began.

There was sufficient evidence to charge the men with felony murder of first degree, with torture, penetration by fingers and burglary, she added.

"Depending on who you believe, they each blame the other, although Villagomez eventually takes responsibility for assisting in [the incident]. We have $200 worth of coins from the home found in Mr. Martinez's backpack when he was arrested," she said.

While there was no evidence Villagomez actually caused any physical injuries to Pharis, Villagomez however, was an accomplice to the murder, said Bramsen, calling him a "major participant" in the attack, and that he had reckless indifference to human life during the attack and interviews.

"During interviews, he said he believed Martinez was going to assault her, saw him beating her, saw blood all over her face," Bramsen said. After giving Martinez the hammer, Villagomez at some point during the attack went to the window to "act as a lookout," she said. 

After being told by detectives that Pharis had died Aug. 1, Villagomez "shrugged his shoulders, and asked to see a picture of her dead," Bramsen said.

Martinez told Santa Maria Police Department Cpl. Michael Huffman that he used two fingers to penetrate her vagina after she went limp. 

Defense attorney Lori Pedego, who represents Martinez, countered Bramsen's statements, stating that her client did not meet the torture criteria, stating that he did not show specific intent to "get revenge, extort or persuade her to do anything" by causing pain and suffering.

There also was no physical evidence, other than Martinez's statements that he actually hit her with a hammer, nor was there any physical evidence of sexual assault," Pedego said.

Bramsen countered Pedego's claims, stating that Pharis was attacked for as long as 30 minutes. 

"That is a long attack," she said. "Ms. Pharis was fighting for her life. She fought and fought and fought to survive. He wasn't going to allow that to happen."

Bramsen continued, "Each time she regained consciousness after he violently strangled her to the point where her hyoid bone is fractured, he strangled and beat her again. 

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"What he had to do, to subdue her over and over again shows his intent," Bramsen said. "He's persuading her to not get away, to not get to the phone -- anything he could do to not get caught." 

Defense attorney Michael Scott, who represents Villagomez, argued that his client was not the actual killer, and that his client did not enter the Pharis home to burglarize, but rather to look for a place to stay. 

Looking out the window is not a crime nor does it indicate aiding and abetting, Scott continued. 

"Aiding and abetting must show intent by word or deed to help," he said. "He didn't steal anything; he didn't do anything to anybody." 

At one point, Villagomez saw Martinez attacking Pharis, became scared and ran off because he was worried about his own life, Scott said.

"You're with a guy you knew for one day. You get kicked out of a place, go to another. A woman awakes and, then, suddenly you see this stranger savagely beating a woman in a room you don't expect to be occupied," Scott continued.

"In the interview, [detectives] ask him why didn't he do anything to help the woman. His reply was, 'because there would've been two bodies -- Pharis' and mine.'"

After hearing all attorneys, McGregor ordered all parties to return Jan. 19 for arraignment on the information.

Martinez and Villagomez now have a right to go to trial within 60 days of their next court date. 

Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210

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Courts/Public Safety Reporter