On May 29, 1987, 22-year-old Juan “Junior” Martinez was fatally shot on a street corner in Philadelphia.
When police arrived, Renee Thompson, a prostitute, said she saw a car drive by and man extend his arm and shoot Martinez.
Minutes later, a car drove up and Thompson said it was the car containing the gunman. She identified 23-year-old Alfredo Domenech as the gunman. Domenech was arrested as was 17-year-old Ivan Serrano
, who was in the car. Both were charged with murder.
Police continued to investigate and interviewed Martinez’s family members. One of them, a cousin named Caesario Sanchez, told officers that he had been with Martinez in a bar that night.
Sanchez said that he and Martinez and two others went to the home of an acquaintance. He identified the two others as a man named “Tito” and Antonio Ortiz. He said that he went inside the house, leaving Ortiz, “Tito” and Martinez outside. While inside, he said he heard shots and fled.
Detectives tracked down “Tito,” who denied being present at the murder. They were unable to locate Ortiz.
At trial in 1988, Thompson again identified Domenech as the gunman. Her testimony was contradicted by that of the medical examiner who said that the angle of the shoot and distance between the shooter and victim indicated the shooting was at close range.
During the trial, police found Ortiz, who said the murder was committed by someone else. His statement was turned over to the defense attorneys, but they chose not to try to call Ortiz as a witness.
On March 28, 1988, a jury convicted both men and they were sentenced to life in prison.
In 2005, Ortiz gave a more detailed statement, saying that he was at the scene of the shooting and that Martinez was shot during a drug deal that went bad.
The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office re-opened the investigation during which Ortiz passed two polygraph examinations. Domenech also passed a polygraph examination. He contended they drove by the scene because they were looking for prostitutes. Thompson had died by that time.
On October 28, 2005, the District Attorney’s Office and attorneys for the defendants brought a joint motion for a new trial which was granted. The charges were then dismissed.
Domenech and Serrano were released from prison on October 31, 2005.
In 2006, a federal civil wrongful lawsuit was filed, alleging that exculpatory statements from other eyewitnesses were withheld by the prosecution. The suit was dismissed by a federal judge in 2007.
– Maurice Possley