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The jury trial set to begin Monday for the two men charged in the death of Marily Pharis has been postponed for two weeks due to scheduling overlap.

The trial for Jose Villagomez and Victor Martinez has been delayed twice: once last May, and again in late January this year.

Trial confirmation for the case is now set for April 12, with jury trial tentatively slated to begin April 23. Two separate juries will deliberate facts of the case after Judge John McGregor granted the requests by Villagomez's attorney Michael Scott and Martinez's attorney Lori Pedego.

Pharis, a 64-year-old Air Force veteran, was attacked at her home on the 900 block of North Dejoy Street in Santa Maria on July 24, 2015, as she slept following a night shift at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

When Villagomez and Martinez allegedly broke into Pharis' home, she threatened to call police after she spotted them. According to preliminary hearing testimony, Pharis was attacked by Martinez while Villagomez kept watch at a window.

Pharis, who suffered severe injuries during the altercation, died from her injuries Aug. 1, eight days after the attack. Autopsy results attribute her cause of death to blood clots that had formed in her leg days after the assault.

News of the case sparked national media attention due to Martinez's status as an undocumented immigrant from Mexico with a criminal background. Among other run-ins with law enforcement, Martinez was reportedly arrested in May 2014 on suspicion of felony assault with intent to commit sexual assault but was later charged and convicted of misdemeanor battery, sentenced to probation and released.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials asked county officers to notify them when Martinez was released from custody on that arrest, but the notification never came.

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"Immigration status should play no role in the courtroom," Pedego said in 2015, after expressing concern that Martinez's case would be inappropriately used to advance a political agenda.

Ten days after Pharis' death, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, accused the city of ignoring requests from federal immigration officials, pointing to an incident that occurred a week before the alleged assault. Martinez was arrested on drug and weapons charges July 17, 2015, to which he pleaded no contest. He was released July 20 and ordered to serve a 30-day jail sentence by October.

Following the July 17 incident, ICE declined to issue an immigration detainer after reviewing Martinez's case history and finding he did not meet the agency's enforcement priorities due to a lack of felony convictions or deportations.

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga


Education Reporter

Santa Maria Times reporter Mathew Burciaga covers education for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.