The district attorney has elected not to seek the death penalty for a pair of men accused of beating, raping and strangling Marilyn Pharis in 2015, and instead, will be seeking life in prison without possibility of parole. 

Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen, who is prosecuting the case with Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Karapetian, made the announcement Thursday morning at the Santa Maria Superior Court during a brief hearing for Jose Villagomez and Victor Martinez.

Defense attorneys Lori Pedego and Michael Scott also informed the court that they would be withdrawing their motion to postpone the preliminary hearing, which will commence at 9:30 a.m. Monday in Department 6. 

"I made the decision after speaking with the victim's family and law enforcement officials and officers involved in the case," said Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley. 

"When making these decisions, I always look at the totality of the circumstances, including ... the defendants' records and the details of the crime, which will be disclosed in open court at the preliminary hearing." 

Victor Aureliano Martinez and Jose Fernando Villagomez are accused of beating, raping and strangling Marilyn Pharis in her home in the 900 block of North Dejoy Street on the morning of July 24, 2015. Police said she was strangled, raped and beaten with a hammer, leaving her with a broken neck and both eye sockets shattered. Pharis died a week later. 

Martinez pleaded not guilty July 31, 2015, to attempted murder, sexual assault and burglary. Villagomez was arrested Aug. 4, 2015, on suspicion of the attack after having already been in custody since July 28, 2015, for a probation violation. The two were charged with murder Aug. 7, 2015, after an autopsy determined that Pharis died as a result of the attack. 

The case made national news last summer when it was revealed that Martinez is an undocumented immigrant who was arrested by the Santa Maria Police Department multiple times in the past. Federal immigration officials asked to be notified when Martinez was released from Santa Barbara County Jail but never were. 

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In October, Pedego filed a motion seeking to have the court exclude all statements made by her client to Police Department detectives the day of his arrest, including the statement, "I hit the woman in the face with a hammer," claiming they were involuntary and unreliable.

Last month, the attorney informed Judge John McGregor that she had chosen to withdraw her motion to preserve her analysis that supported her belief that an improper, non-Mirandized interrogation took place between her client and detectives. 

Both defendants and their respective court-certified Spanish interpreters and all attorneys will return to court Monday morning for a multiday preliminary hearing that is scheduled for Dec. 12, 13, 14 and 16. 

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


Courts/Public Safety Reporter