Defense attorneys for two men charged with attacking 64-year-old Marilyn Pharis in her Santa Maria home questioned the circumstances surrounding the cause of her death after listening to autopsy reports during the second day of the preliminary hearing Tuesday at the Santa Maria Superior Court.

Jose Villagomez and Victor Martinez are accused of beating, raping and strangling Pharis on July 24, 2015. Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen and Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Karapetian are prosecuting the case, with defense attorneys Lori Pedego and Michael Scott representing Martinez and Villagomez.  

Dr. Manuel Montez, forensic pathologist from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Coroner's Office, was called first to testify. During his testimony, Montez said the manner of death was a homicide, as she was assaulted at the hands of another individual. The cause of death, however, was blood clots that had formed in her leg days after the incident. The clots, Montez said, developed after Pharis was hospitalized for her injuries, which rendered her immobile. 

Autopsy reports showed that Pharis suffered several blows to her face, including several abrasions in her mouth and chin area. He said he also saw evidence of force applied to her neck caused by manual strangulation. Pharis suffered bruising in the whites of her eyes, which were indicative of applied pressure on the neck, causing blood vessels to burst.

Her hyoid bone inside her neck was fractured, and she sustained severe blunt force trauma to her chest and face areas, Montez said. In addition to the applied injuries, Montez testified that Pharis also sustained defensive injuries, meaning that she was “awake enough to fight back, and [the injuries] showed signs of warding off an attack.”

After being admitted to the hospital for assault July 24, and receiving medical care, Pharis’ condition began to improve, according to Montez.

“She was almost discharged from the hospital, but she began complaining of her leg swelling on July 29,” he said. 

Under Bramsen’s questioning, Montez testified that Pharis had suffered from atrial fibrillation (AFib), which worsened following the assault. AFib, said Montez, causes irregular heartbeats, and could eventually cause blood clots to form. Physical and psychological stress from the incident also could have exacerbated her condition. 

The clots, Montez said, did not develop from direct physical trauma on the leg but, rather, from the fact that Pharis was immobile due to her injuries. Eventually, those clots traveled to her lungs, killing her on Aug. 1, 2015, a week after she was admitted to the hospital. 

Under Pedego’s questioning, Montez stated that he received no medical records that indicated any signs of sexual assault. No signs of external trauma was found in Pharis' genital area.

During his testimony, Santa Maria Police Cpl. Michael Huffman, who interviewed both defendants after the July 24 incident, said that Martinez admitted that he was staying in a shed in the backyard of a vacant house on the 1100 block of McElhaney Drive for about a month. After meeting “Juan” (Villagomez), whom he invited to stay with him in the shed, a construction worker eventually showed up, asking both men to leave.  

“Martinez says that Juan told him he knew of another house,” Huffman testified. After finding the house, Martinez told officers that he was chased by some men, ran into an alleyway, then eventually found himself inside a house, at 937 N. Dejoy St., where a lady saw him.

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“The lady threatened to call the cops, and he begged her not to,” Huffman said. “Mr. Martinez, then at one point, said they both went inside the house, where Juan found a woman sleeping in the closet. He kicked her, then told Martinez to hit her.”

“Later, Martinez said Juan told him to go downstairs to get a hammer, then hit her with it.”

Eventually, Martinez’s story changed, Huffman testified. Martinez demonstrated how he hit Pharis about eight or nine times, while he kneeled over her.

“At the end (of the interview),” Huffman said, “he admitted, ‘I hit her with a hammer.’” Martinez indicated to the detectives that he didn’t intend to kill her, but rather, just wanted her to lose consciousness. He also admitted to sticking his fingers inside her vaginal area and began hitting her again, Huffman added.

“[Martinez] said he couldn’t explain why he did that,” Huffman said. “Her body shook, then went limp and she couldn’t get up anymore. Martinez said he then hit her with a hammer, then [Pharis became] unconscious.”  

Testimony will resume at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Santa Maria Superior Court. 

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

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Courts/Public Safety Reporter