A cop killer who gunned down a Blythe store clerk during a 24-hour, two-state crime spree was sentenced Friday to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Ernesto Salgado Martinez, 42, was convicted in December of first-degree murder, and jurors found true special circumstance allegations of killing during a robbery and taking multiple lives for the 1995 slaying of 43-year-old Randip Singh.
Riverside County Superior Court Judge Charles Koosed imposed the specified sentence recommended by the same Riverside jury that convicted him. The panel recommended life imprisonment rather than the death penalty — to which Martinez was already sentenced for killing Arizona Department of Public Safety Officer Robert K. Martin.
Martinez was on parole in late July 1995 when he stole a Chevrolet Monte Carlo in Indio and went to Arizona to look for family members, who had left California before his release from state prison.
Martinez drove through Arizona for several weeks, ending up northeast of Phoenix, traveling the Beeline (87) Highway between Payson and Scottsdale.
On the afternoon of Aug. 15, 1995, Martinez went south on the Beeline, en route to Phoenix, and began driving erratically, plowing through construction zones in excess of 80 mph, according to testimony from his Arizona trial in 1997.
As he approached Shea Boulevard, Martinez’s reckless driving caught the attention of Martin, who was conducting speed enforcement along the highway. The 57-year-old patrolman stopped Martinez on the shoulder of southbound lanes.
A couple, Steve and Susan Bell, happened to drive by as the officer walked to the driver’s side of the Chevrolet with his citation book in hand.
Less than a minute later, the stolen Monte Carlo overtook them on the highway, and a couple of minutes after that, they saw two DPS patrol cars racing north on the highway, in the direction of where the traffic stop had occurred.
The witnesses then happened upon the Monte Carlo stuck in traffic due to road work and took down the plate information after getting a look at Martinez — details that proved pivotal in convicting him.
Martin was shot four times, and his 9mm handgun was snatched by Martinez.
Deputy District Attorney Chris Cook wrote in a trial brief that, shortly before 8 p.m. that day, Martinez reached Blythe, going into the Day N’ Nite Mini Mart at 200 E. Hobson Way. The prosecutor said Martinez approached Singh, pulled out the 9mm handgun and shot the victim twice, inflicting a fatal wound to the chest. Martinez then grabbed cash from the register and fled, according to Cook.
By the following day, California law enforcement agencies had been alerted to the Arizona murder, as well as the vehicle involved. According to the prosecution, late in the morning of Aug. 16, 1995, an Indio police officer spotted the car on Forest Drive and called for backup.
Officers followed the Monte Carlo to 80-705 Indio Blvd., where Martinez dropped a cousin, the cousin’s wife and their child at a friend’s house, Cook said. He said that when Martinez saw the police cars nearby, he ran inside the residence, causing the other occupants to bolt outside.
Martinez dumped the .38-caliber revolver he’d used to kill Martin, as well as the officer’s 9mm pistol, then barricaded himself inside the house. Following a three-hour standoff, during which Martinez insisted that police would never take him alive, he surrendered.
He acted as his own attorney during the murder trial in Riverside and will be returned to prison in Arizona.