A 24-year-old Anchorage man was sentenced Friday for first-degree robbery after reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors. The four-year sentence is a mere fraction of the amount of jail time Matthew Martin would have faced if the state hadn't dropped two additional second-degree murder charges stemming from the young man's suspected involvement in a brutal beating downtown in September.
Anchorage police arrested four men after investigators reviewed video footage from businesses near the beating. David Walent, 24; Jerrick Blankenship, 18; Lewis Martin, 33; and Matthew Martin were charged with the murder of 50-year-old Ferdinand Marquez, described as a seasonal fishing employee who alternated his residence between California and Alaska.
Lewis Martin is Matthew Martin's older brother, according to court testimony.
At the time of the men's arrest, Anchorage Police Department spokeswoman Anita Shell said police believe the assault began when Walent -- referred to by police as the "primary assailant" -- threw a heavy construction barricade at Marquez. The other men were accused of then joining in on the assault, coming from an apartment "within a block" of where the attack took place, outside an Anchorage mental health clinic.
Matthew Martin has agreed to testify for the state in the cases against the three other defendants, according to Friday's testimony. His co-defendants all still face murder charges. Trial is set to begin in July.
Superior Court Judge Michael Wolverton said he gave significant weight to Martin's cooperation when deciding on a sentence. The judge noted that such cooperation can put people in custody at risk.
Wolverton also said the single glimpse of human compassion he witnessed in the video of the beating, which he previously had viewed outside the courtroom, was when Matthew Martin "physically wrestled people back so they wouldn't harm the victim further." Still, the same video shows Martin kicking Marquez and rummaging through the victim's backpack, the basis for the robbery charge.
"It's a tragic insult to the community ... you need to stop and recognize the importance of each and every life," Wolverton said, adding that the community is fed up with violence.
Martin appeared in court in the yellow scrubs issued to general population inmates at Goose Creek Correctional Complex. His mother and sister-in-law sat behind him through the hearing, the former quietly sobbing intermittently during the proceedings.
Marquez's mother attended the sentencing as well, and she wiped tears from her eyes multiple times as she sat 10 feet from the man who's been spared from facing more serious charges for killing her son. She declined to comment outside the courtroom.
During her brief statement, assistant district attorney Christina Sherman asked the court to impose a five-year sentence.
Sherman argued that although Martin tried to stop his co-defendants at one point, the severity of the part police say he played in the crime is compounded because the victim's body was not discovered until five hours later. He also participated in the beating, the prosecutor said.
Defense attorney John Cashion said a sentence of 2½ years would suffice for his client, along with substantial suspended time. Cashion argued Martin's lack of criminal history, his ability to hold a job and the attempt to stop the three other men during the beating should factor into the sentence.
Cashion said Martin's fiancee is expected to give birth soon, and the life-changing event will deter the young man from future run-ins with the law.
Martin declined to address the court when given the opportunity, letting Cashion speak on his behalf.
"I'm OK, your honor," he replied when Wolverton gave him an opportunity to speak.
Cashion said his client understood the victim's death was senseless; Wolverton said he believed Martin expressed sincere regret in a letter written to the court.
After the hearing, Martin's sister-in-law Andrea Martin said she supported him as well as his older brother -- to a certain extent.
"What they did was wrong," she said, "but you stick behind family, bad or good."
Reach Jerzy Shedlock at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By JERZY SHEDLOCK