Martinez murder trial gets underway

Janie Slaven | CJ

Humberto Mesa-Vasquez (also known as Alejandro A. Vasquez Cabrera), 36, returns to the courtroom following an afternoon break during Day 1 of his trial. The defendant is accused of Murder, second-degree Arson, Tampering with Physical Evidence and Abuse of a Corpse in connection to the February 2018 murder of Jorge Martinez.

The murder trial of a man accused of fatally shooting a fellow immigrant, then enlisting others to help burn the body, got underway Tuesday before Pulaski Circuit Judge David Tapp.

Humberto Mesa-Vasquez (also known as Alejandro A. Vasquez Cabrera), 36, of Somerset, has been charged with Murder, second-degree Arson, Tampering with Physical Evidence and Abuse of a Corpse in connection to the February 2018 murder of Jorge Martinez.

After a morning of interviewing potential jurors, a 13-member jury was selected by random draw shortly after the lunch break. Following opening statements from Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney David Dalton and defense attorney Andrea Simpson, the prosecution opened with witnesses establishing how Martinez was found the morning of February 24, 2018, as well as a timeline of how the homicide investigation progressed.

Mary Hamm testified that she was on her driving on Rush Branch Road en route to work between 6:30 and 6:40 a.m. that morning when she came upon a car fire -- alerting 911 and taking a brief video of the scene. Members of the Haynes Knob and Ferguson volunteer fire departments also testified to what they found when they responded to the scene.

Ferguson firefighter Jerry Sutherland Jr. testified that he approached the vehicle to look for "hot spots" after the initial blaze had been knocked down. Once he was close enough, he found the body in the driver's seat and alerted law enforcement.

Detective Joey Johnson of the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office (PCSO) testified that he was the first detective on scene and photographed it before the body of Martinez was recovered and rain forced the officers to put a tarp over the vehicle so that it could be transported back to impound for further examination. It was there that fabric from the vehicle was collected for evidence testing.

Deputy Coroner Danny Karriker and Transport Officer Jerry Karriker of the Pulaski County Coroner's Officer testified to their recovery of the body and subsequent transport to the medical examiner's office in Frankfort.

Estelle Fuentes testified that Martinez worked with her husband's roofing business along with two other men she knew as father and son (Herberto Romero-Galvez and Heberto Romero Ordonez). At approximately 8 a.m. on February 24, she returned home from work to find her husband outside talking with the father and son. Although she couldn't detail the conversation, Fuentes told the court that she called 911 based on what her husband told her after the men left and he came inside the home.

Dalton asked Fuentes if she considered Martinez a friend of the family. She responded that she had attended his memorial service and that he had eaten dinner with her family the prior Thanksgiving.

Galvez and Ordonez lived with Mesa-Vasquez, the current defendant, at 431 South Main Street in downtown Somerset. Lieutenant Randall Smith of the Somerset Police Department (SPD) testified how all three men were taken into custody at that apartment after which he accompanied SPD Det. Larry Patterson to a residence on Griffin Avenue where they were led to a pistol which had been buried in the backyard.

That .25 caliber gun is believed to have been the weapon Mesa-Vasquez used to shoot Martinez in the head prior to burning the body.

As the searches were continuing on South Main and Griffin streets, the three Hispanic men had been transported to the sheriff's office, according to testimony from PCSO Lt. Bobby Jones. Lt. Jones testified that -- in addition to the men being interviewed -- evidence was collected in terms of their clothing, gun shot residue and buccal swabs (inside the mouth for DNA).

Through Lt. Jones' testimony, Dalton also entered into evidence a collection of photographs taken at the defendant's South Main Street apartment -- noting that four shell casings were found at the scene in addition to a projectile which had to be dug out of the floor. Jones further testified that a live .25 round was found at the back of the closet shelf in Mesa-Vasquez' bedroom.

On cross examination, Simpson asked the lieutenant about a stain on Galvez' pants. While Lt. Jones noted the stain, he couldn't testify as to what it was. He also testified that one of the casings had been found in the bedroom that the father and son shared, while another was found in the living room.

On redirect, Dalton asked Lt. Jones if the father and son had been cooperative when interviewed. "It took them awhile," he responded.

The first day of testimony ended with SPD Det. Joe Criswell, who attended the Martinez autopsy in Frankfort. The detective talked about the evidence collected there, including remnants of the victim's clothing as well as a DNA sample and a head X-ray through which it had been determined that Martinez had been shot.

The prosecution's case is expected to continue throughout today. Testimony is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.

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