A judge ruled Thursday that two men charged in connection to the 2015 murder of Marilyn Joy Pharis will have two separate juries when they go to trial in February. 

Jose Villagomez and Victor Martinez were held to answer to the first-degree murder of Pharis a year ago after the preliminary hearing. Additionally, Martinez is charged with a 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. 

Each defendant will have his own jury panel to deliberate over trial testimony.

Villagomez's attorney Michael Scott filed a motion for a separate trial, as well as an alternate motion for a separate jury, arguing the evidence and allegations are different for the pair. Further, Martinez's admissions to law enforcement after his arrest implicate Villagomez as a conspirator in the crime, Scott claimed. 

"The evidence of Martinez's brutal assault of [Pharis] could inflame the jury against Villagomez," Scott argued, adding his client never touched Pharis nor ordered Martinez to attack her, therefore, "there is a risk of jury confusion." 

Senior Deputy Public Defender Lori Pedego, who represents Martinez, also sought to sever the two cases, as both men during their interrogations with police "sought to implicate the other in a variety of ways."

"[Martinez's] contradictory statements paint him with a brush of unreliability, instability and untrustworthiness," Pedego claimed. "Mr. Martinez's mere association with Mr. Villagomez puts Mr. Martinez in a bad light before a potential jury." 

In the prosecution's opposition to the idea of separate trials, Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen and Deputy District Attorney Fabiana Fede instead asked the court for dual juries, so as to have the witnesses testify only once in trial, and to avoid overusing courtroom resources and impacting a crowded trial calendar. 

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"Martinez and Villagomez are jointly charged ... with all counts and special allegations with the exception that Martinez, alone, is charged with the special allegation of torture," according to the prosecution.

Both men entered the home, both DNAs were found near the scene and Villagomez admitted he helped Martinez break into the home, Bramsen argued.

After granting the request for the pair to have two separate juries when their Feb. 5 trial begins, Judge John McGregor ordered the case to be continued to Dec. 21. Trial confirmation is scheduled for Jan. 25.

If convicted, the pair face life in prison without possibility of parole. 

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


Courts/Public Safety Reporter