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Police Blotter: Use of hammer increases burglary sentence

LOS ANGELES

Back on Feb. 10, 2016, Eric Martinez, 33, along with Kari Johnson, broke into a residence in the McKinley County portion of the reservation, stealing a variety of items worth a total of $60,000.

According to court records, Martinez used a hammer to help break a lock on the back door. Martinez was arrested by Navajo Nation Police shortly after the crime was committed and he was given a probated sentence by the tribal court. He was given provisions he needed to follow and when he failed to complete these, the U.S. Attorney’s Office decided to file federal charges in the case. Court records said that some of the items stolen have been recovered by police.

The owner also recovered some of the items, but $37,000 worth of items was never recovered. Martinez pleaded guilty to the crime last November but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, sentencing was delayed until Aug. 26 when he was sentenced to 27 months in prison after a dispute over whether the hammer used to break the back door down was a dangerous weapon. The use of the hammer increased the sentence.

Martinez’s attorney argued it should not be considered a weapon because the hammer was used only as a tool to break open the door. No one was at home at the time of the burglary. The prosecution argued that federal law only requires possession of a dangerous weapon, whether or not it is used in that context during the commission of the crime.

They pointed to a federal case where a bank robber had a screwdriver in his possession during the robbery and although it did not play a role in the robbery, the defendant’s sentence was enhanced because he had that screwdriver in his possession at the time he committed the robbery. Martinez asked the court to give him a conditional discharge, which would have done away with a prison term, but the sentencing memorandum filed in the case said sentencing guidelines did not give a federal judge that option. Martinez has filed a notice that he plans to appeal the sentence. Johnson has filed a motion with the court to enter a guilty plea in the case. This has not been taken up by the court yet.


About The Author

Bill Donovan

Bill Donovan has been writing about the Navajo Nation government since 1971 and for the Navajo Times since 1976. He is currently semi-retired and is living in Torrance, California, and continues to report for the Navajo Times.

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