A self-confessed Mexican cartel enforcer has admitted to executing as many as 40 people over the course of three decades.
Jose Manuel Martinez, who is 51 years old, was arrested last year for shooting a roofing contractor twice in the head for speaking unflatteringly of Martinez’s daughter, whom he was visiting in Alabama. He was permitted to return to his home in California due to a lack of evidence, but was arrested three months later and sent back.
While awaiting trial, Martinez reportedly disclosed to Alabama authorities that he had worked as a cartel hitman since the age of 16, outfitting them with details of a string of murders he committed nationwide. Investigators found that his information corresponded with a number of unsolved homicides across the country, and they began connecting the dots.
On Tuesday, prosecutors in California announced that they had charged Martinez with nine murders and one attempted murder that occurred in the state. He is also wanted in Florida in connection to two homicides, with more charges likely to follow elsewhere.
“To think of the ability, if these allegations are true, to take 12 human lives in such a way,” Anthony Fultz, assistant district attorney for California’s Tulare County, where Martinez is charged with killing six people, told VICE News. “I can’t imagine that kind of cold heartedness.”
Martinez has not revealed the name of his employer, but explained that he supported his family by collecting debts and pocketing a percentage. Relatives have found it difficult to accept the allegations. His mother expressed anguished disbelief to the Los Angeles Times.
“I'm still shaking, I'm not in a condition to deal with this,” she said. “He's saying things that aren't true.”
Fultz declined to discuss details of the investigation with VICE News in order to avoid compromising the case being pursued against Martinez in California.
One of these key details is which of Mexico’s cartels authorities suspect of employing Martinez. A recent report published by the California Attorney General’s office indicates that the two other counties where murders allegedly took place, Kern and Santa Barbara, are known trafficking routes for the transnational Sinaloa Cartel.
The Sinaloa Cartel has forged alliances with California street gangs known as Sureños to distribute drugs and expand its reach in the state. This expansion has precipitated clashes with other regional gangs that had previously overseen the trafficking routes. Although his connection to particular cartel has not yet been made public, it’s conceivable that Martinez might have played a role in this struggle.
Martinez previously served time in California state prison on theft and drug charges. He could face the death penalty if convicted of the murders in California, which are believed to have occurred between 1980 and 2011.
A multi-state investigation into whether Martinez was responsible for other unsolved homicides is ongoing.