More than a year after her death, the voice of Marilyn Pharis could be heard once again Monday as the preliminary hearing for the two men charged in the attack that left her fatally injured in 2015 got underway.

The defendants, Victor Aureliano Martinez and Jose Villagomez, sat quietly as a recording of the call Pharis made to 911 after she was attacked in her Santa Maria home played out in the courtroom.

Martinez and Villagomez are accused of beating, raping and strangling Pharis in her home in the 900 block of North Dejoy Street. 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.

At about 9:45 p.m. on July 24, Pharis called 911 to say she had been attacked and was injured while fighting her attackers.

“He was trying to choke me,” Pharis told the 911 dispatcher.

Pharis told the emergency dispatcher that her attacker used a hammer.

“I think he had my hammer from my garage,” Pharis said.

She said she thought that she lost consciousness at some point during the attack and that her assailant tried to rip off her clothes.

“Please come,” Pharis said. “I am beat up pretty bad.”

Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen and Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Karapetian are prosecuting the case.

A preliminary hearing can be described as a trial before the trial. During the proceedings, the judge decides whether there is enough evidence for the defendants to stand trial.

The prosecutors began establishing the facts of their case with the 911 recording, and called some of the emergency personnel that responded to Pharis’ call for help to the stand Monday.

Santa Maria Police Officer William Jackson was one of the first officers on the scene.

When he arrived, Pharis came to her front door; as soon as he saw her he said he knew something was wrong.

“She needed help,” Jackson said.

The patrol officer, with nearly 15 years of experience in law enforcement, described Pharis as lethargic and said that her head was swelling.

“To me it looked like her mouth was scrunched,” Jackson said.

He immediately called for medical help. When help arrived, Jackson heard a call for a suspicious man running through the area. After checking to make sure Pharis’ home was empty, he joined the search for the suspicious person.

Get news headlines sent daily to your inbox

Santa Maria Police Canine Officer Amanda Ricker and her partner, Kopi, responded to the same call.

After a search, Ricker said she, Kopi and other officers saw a man scale and jump over a brick wall in the area. After a search of the area, Kopi and Ricker found the man, later identified as Martinez, hiding in a backyard under a canvas tarp.

Martinez, who does not speak English, was taken into custody and brought to the Santa Maria Police Department’s new station on Betteravia Road.

At the police station, Martinez was placed in an interview room. Santa Maria Police Officer Roberto Ruiz, who speaks fluent Spanish, was asked to supervise him.

While in the room, Ruiz told the court that Martinez was mumbling to himself in Spanish.

According to Ruiz, during Martinez’ ramblings he said, “I hit her in the face with a hammer.”

Martinez pleaded not guilty July 31, 2015, to attempted murder, sexual assault and burglary.

Villagomez was arrested Aug. 4, 2015, in connection with the attack, after having been in custody since July 28, 2015, for a probation violation. The two were charged with murder Aug. 7 that year, 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 had been 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.

The preliminary hearing, held at Santa Maria Superior Court, is expected to last for several days.

Logan B. Anderson covers city government in Santa Maria for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter: @LoganBAnderson.


City Government Reporter