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Jose Villagomez, charged with the murder of Marilyn Pharis one year ago, listens to a court interpreter through headphones during his appearance in Santa Maria Superior Court in this Aug. 26 photo.

Frank Cowan, Contributor

A Superior Court judge denied a request Monday to dismiss felony robbery and murder charges for a man accused of beating and torturing a 64-year-old Santa Maria woman, despite his attorney arguing there was insufficient evidence he was a major participant in the alleged attack.

The attack allegedly occurred July 24, 2015, at Marilyn Pharis’ home in the 900 block of North Dejoy Street, where she suffered a broken neck, and shattered eye sockets. She died a week later on Aug. 1, 2015.

Jose Fernando Villagomez and Victor Aureliano Martinez were held to answer to the first-degree murder of Pharis last December after a three-day preliminary hearing. In addition, Martinez also must answer to the special circumstances of murder with torture. They both must answer to charges including the special allegation -- use of a hammer -- to attack Pharis; special circumstances of murder in commission of robbery; burglary; and sexual penetration with a foreign object. 

Villagomez’s attorney Michael Scott argued Monday before Judge James Voysey, in Santa Maria, that his client was held to answer without reasonable or probable cause.

Scott claimed Villagomez never touched the victim and that merely looking out the window is not a crime. He also argued Pharis told police that she only witnessed a single assailant during the attack.

 “[Villagomez], when asked by detectives why he did not intervene and stop the co-defendant from assaulting the lady, said that he was afraid that he would become the victim,” Scott's motion read.

First-degree burglary also should not apply to Villagomez, Scott argued. He claimed the pair had no intent to commit a robbery as they simply were looking for a vacant building to stay and to store their belongings, since they had been told to vacate a nearby shed. Furthermore, Scott argued, there was no evidence his client ever took anything from the house, nor any evidence of sexual assault. 

“[Villagomez] did not aid and abet [Martinez],” the motion said. “The only evidence is that toward the end of [Martinez’s] assault, the defendant looked out the bedroom window. That’s it.

“What started as a simple trespass went terribly wrong through no fault of the defendant,” the motion argued. “The defendant had no reason to know or believe that a simple trespass would involve a grave risk of death. Absent proof of reckless indifference, all three special circumstances must fail.”

Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen argued in her motion that Judge John McGregor had rationale ground to hold Villagomez for first-degree murder, burglary and aiding and abetting Martinez in the robbery.

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She argued Villagomez admitted during police interviews that he helped Martinez break into the home, that he knew Martinez had a hammer in his backpack when they entered and that he believed Martinez was going to sexually assault the woman.

“Villagomez admitted to seeing blood spatter on the lady’s face, to hearing her asking for help and to thinking Martinez was going to sexually abuse her,” Bramsen’s motion read. “He admitted to seeing Martinez ‘fighting’ with the lady. After knowing all of that information, Villagomez admitted that he went to the window when Martinez asked him to go and see if anyone was coming. He made sure that Martinez had the time he needed to complete his intended crimes.”

Villagomez himself is the one who told detectives he believed Martinez was sexually abusing the lady. He admitted to going to the window and acting as a lookout at the request of Martinez, the motion further stated. 

Bramsen added that when Villagomez allegedly fled on Martinez's bike, which gave him another opportunity to get help for Pharis, and apparently shrugged his shoulders, it defined the meaning of “reckless indifference to human life.”

In the days after Pharis' death, it was revealed that Martinez is an undocumented immigrant with a criminal history going back to 2009 and that immigration officials had once targeted him for deportation, leading to national media coverage.

The pair are scheduled to return May 18 for a readiness and settlement conference. A trial date has been scheduled for August.

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

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Courts/Public Safety Reporter