Dad set free after Chandler child’s 2004 death - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Dad set free after Chandler child’s 2004 death

August 31st, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Dad set free after Chandler child’s 2004 death

By Paul Maryniak
STSN Executive Editor

On the morning of Aug. 16, Jeffrey R. Martinson became a free man.

His ankle bracelet was removed and he could legally turn his back forever on the 2004 death of his 5-year-old son, Joshua Eberle Martinson, in a bunkbed n his Martinson’s  Ahwatukee home. The boy normally lived with his mom in Chandler.

Convicted of first-degree murder in 2011, freed two years later when Maricopa County Judge Sandy Duncan tossed out the case, then arrested again in 2016 when the Arizona Court of Appeals overturned Duncan’s ruling, Martinson was convicted by a jury June 29 of the two least serious charges after a trial that lasted more than three months.

His 18-year court battle cost taxpayers at least $5.4 million in fees to court-appointed lawyers.

For his conviction on two felony counts of negligent homicide and child abuse, he was ordered to pay $44 in various fees, including $9 to the Victim Rights/Compensation Fund, and serve two-and-a-half years in prison.

Credited against that prison term were the 4,207 days – about 11-and-a-half years – he stayed behind bars until he was granted bail in October 2020. For four years he was free while former County Attorney Bill Montgomery, now an Arizona Supreme Court justice, fought to have Duncan’s action overturned on appeal.

The long criminal case against Martinson began on Sunday, Aug. 29. 2004, when he had missed an appointment to return the youngster to his mother under terms of a custody arrangement.

Police arrived at his home to retrieve the boy and instead found Joshua’s lifeless body in one bedroom and a semi-conscious Martinson in another with a garbage bag over his head and cuts on his wrist.

After a four-hour grilling by Phoenix detectives, he was charged with intentionally killing the youngster, who had just turned 5 five weeks earlier.

Joshua had been the focus of a bitter custody battle between Martinson and his ex-wife that was so bitter that she went to court with the help of Scottsdale-based Arizona Voice for Crime Victims to bar him from visiting the youngster’s grave. A judge instead limited the times he could go to the cemetery.

Thousands of pages of court records bear witness to a vigorous fight by Martinson’s various lawyers to limit or exclude the testimony of numerous investigators and medical professionals who have been involved in the case at one time or another, mostly around the time of his arrest.

The battle largely involved the cause of Joshua’s death and what Martinson told police.

Defense lawyers have been waging a fight over what the toxicologist and the medical examiner could be allowed to testify to – or even if they should be allowed on the witness stand at all.

Martinson had claimed he found him in the bathtub, though he never said the boy had drowned.

Dr. John Hu, who performed the autopsy, ruled the death a homicide and that it was caused by acute carisoprodol toxicity. 

While a detective said the bathtub was dry, defense lawyers  pointed out that photos taken the night of the boy’s discovery showed the bathroom rug was sopping wet. 

The judge noted that Hu had said “a conclusion of drowning was not supported by the carisoprodol levels present.”

The drug is also known by the brand name Soma, and witnesses testified an empty bottle of Soma with a child-proof cap was on the top shelf of a medicine cabinet.

Under cross examination, Hu conceded his findings could be consistent with other causes and that tests were never conducted to rule out some of them. 

Defense lawyers also tried to prevent or limit Hu’s testimony about a small abrasion inside the boy’s lip, which he intimated could have been caused by an effort to force the drug into his mouth. Under cross examination at Martinson’s trial, Hu also testified it could have been caused by an attempt to resuscitate him.

The judge also rejected efforts to block all testimony about marks on the boy’s neck, saying they could legitimately be viewed as showing “that the child was ‘manipulated’ by the defendant as opposed to remaining in a stationary position in the bedroom.”

Throughout the years, the words ‘long and tortuous litigation” were used several times by lawyers and judges in Martinson’s case.

Some of that litigation produced stunning revelations along the way.

Duncan threw out Martinson’s original conviction after it was shown that a juror hid facts that could have disqualified her. She then bullied her way into being elected the panel’s foreperson.

Other jurors testified that during deliberations, the same juror repeatedly bullied them, denigrated the defendant and defense lawyers, and even rewrote a question one juror wanted the judge to answer.

Another juror testified he felt pressured to find Martinson guilty of the most serious kind of child abuse – which would have led to a death penalty hearing.

Two years after Duncan’s ruling was reversed on appeal in 2016, the defense swung into high gear to prevent the case from coming to trial a second time.

Testimony introduced in his trial this spring showed that Martinson during his interrogation was asked about the Sunday of Joshua’s death and he replied, “I don’t remember Sunday at all.”

While a grief counselor-psychologist called by the defense said that during his interrogation, Martinson “could have been experiencing disassociation,” the prosecution successfully fought to limit her testimony and prevent her from telling the jury he was grieving.

In a post-trial memo to the court, Deputy County Attorney Joseph Hinrichsen said Martinson “should have done everything possible to ensure the victim grew up, got an education, was successful in moving forward past school to the working world and lived a fulfilling life.

“He should have been through the moments of happiness and joy and comforted him when times were tough. That’s part and parcel of what a father is. But that was certainly not what this case has showed, despite the defense’s many attempts to paint the defendant as the most loving parent the victim could ever have. The defendant through his actions caused the death of the victim. Even negligently, that is not the action of a loving parent.”

Prior to his sentencing, six friends of Joshua’s mother wrote the court, urging a harsh sentence that the judge by law could not impose because the time Martinson had been behind bars already exceeded the maximum penalty carried by the charges he was convicted on.

One recalled in detail the little boy who died.

“Josh was the sweetest little boy a person could ever meet…His smiled was infectious and his laughter contagious. He also had a love for Jesus that was instilled in him through his mom,” one woman wrote, recalling how her then-7-year-old daughter was devastated by the death of a boy she frequently played with.”

“Why should he be allowed to walk free and not fully punished when (his ex-wife), my daughter and I, plus all family and friends of Josh have suffered for years for this heinous crime.”

Joshua’s teacher wrote about the difference she saw between his father and mother during separate consultations.

“The contrast between what the parents were interested in regarding Josh were quite alarming,” she wrote. “Mom’s interests were developmental, gains, relationships, behavior and support and what she could do at home to support Josh’s learning experience.

“Dad’s conferences had a different feel. He was quite concerned about the lies he was sure Josh and mom might be saying about him. He would justify Josh’s behavior, blame mom and often talked down to me about my job.”

Still another woman wrote how Joshua’s mother holds a birthday celebration for Joshua at a Diamondbacks game  and annually wishes the youngster Happy Easter and Merry Christmas on social media.

“She still remembers everything about Josh, though years have passed,” she wrote. “She remembers what he liked, his favorite colors and unfortunately everything about the last time she saw him. It is so unfair that she lives with those memories.”

An 18-year-old woman wrote how Joshua was her friend when she was growing up with him and how the Martinson case “has shaped my view on our criminal justice system and the corruption that exists in the world today.”

“Josh’s murder impacted me more than I have ever shared before, both then, as a child, and now, as an adult 18 years later. The lingering question is ‘why?’ It is a question that remains without an answer. The defendant made a choice that night that hurt so many people. It took away my friend, a boy who had a future.”

In one of their final acts on behalf of their client, Martinson’s lawyers asked that all those letters and a lengthy pre-sentence report be sealed, claiming they contained “precluded, unproven and libelous allegations against Mr. Martinson that are not appropriate for public disclosure.”

The judge denied the request.