On October 31, 1995, Douglas Lawson and Sherry McCoy-Ward were found dead in their home in Tampa, Florida. Lawson had been shot three times, while McCoy-Ward had been shot and stabbed. A medical examiner determined that the two had been dead for approximately 24 to 72 hours. No forensic evidence was found at the scene, and for three months, police made little progress on the case.
Then the police received a call from Sloane Martinez, who claimed that her ex-husband, Joaquin Martinez, had suggested to her that he’d been involved in the murders. Mr. and Mrs. Martinez had recently divorced, but continued a turbulent on-again, off-again relationship. The day that Ms. Martinez contacted the police, she had just learned that Mr. Martinez planned to skip a visit with their two daughters to go on vacation with his new fiancée. After meeting with police in person, Ms. Martinez agreed to let them bug her phone and apartment while she got him to implicate himself in the murders. Based on information gathered in these conversations, police arrested Joaquin Martinez on January 28, 1996.
At trial, the prosecution played recordings of Mr. and Ms. Martinez’s conversations, but it was so difficult to understand what was said that the jury was given a transcript of the recordings. The transcript had been edited by Lawson’s father, who worked at the sheriff’s department. Prosecutors also presented testimony from five jailhouse informants, all of whom said that Mr. Martinez had discussed his involvement in the murders with them. The informants claimed that they received nothing in exchange for their testimony, but in a post-conviction investigation they admitted that detectives had promised them rewards. Mr. Martinez was convicted and sentenced to death on April 15, 1997.
On appeal, the Florida Supreme Court remanded the case for retrial, based on prosecutorial misconduct in presenting evidence that prejudiced the jury, including a detective’s testimony saying that he believed Martinez was guilty.
The second trial was markedly different from the first. The defense introduced new alibi testimony, and neither Ms. Martinez nor any of the jailhouse snitches were called to the stand, as all had since recanted their previous testimony. Joaquin Martinez was acquitted on June 6, 2001.
– Alexandra Gross