Legal fight over capital rape, murder case continues

amayfield@vagazette.com

The legal fight over the future of a deaf and mute man accused of capital rape and murder continued in Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court on Tuesday.

Oswaldo Elias Martinez, a 45-year-old illegal immigrant from El Salvador, is accused of beating, raping and strangling Brittany Binger, 16, on Jan. 2, 2005, according to documents from Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court.

Martinez, who cannot speak and had no formal language training at the time of the crime, was receiving American Sign Language lessons at Central State Hospital until doctors said he would never be made competent to stand trial in July 2013, court documents state.

Virginia code allows prosecutors to seek indefinite treatment in capital murder cases if the prosecutor can prove that the treatment is medically appropriate, said Williamsburg-James City County Commonwealth's Attorney Nate Green.

The definition of medically appropriate treatment was the subject of debate at Tuesday's hearing.

Experts had spent about eight years trying to teach Martinez ASL, but substitute Judge William Shaw found him incompetent to stand trial on Sept. 19, 2013 on the basis that Martinez cannot assist in his own defense, court documents state.

Since that ruling, Green has worked to prove that Martinez should continue receiving treatment at Central State Hospital in Petersburg, where he is currently being held.

Green argued the state has a right to hold Martinez as long as the treatment isn't medically inappropriate. Green defined medically appropriate treatment as that which does not harm the person receiving it.

Defense attorney Tim Clancy believes it's not medically appropriate to continue holding Martinez because he is not being treated for a medical condition.

Martinez has not been diagnosed as having any type of mental disability, only impaired ability to understand court proceedings, Clancy said.

Martinez is no longer receiving any type of treatment at the hospital. Clancy submitted an affidavit from John Folker, the facility's sign-language interpreter, that said the hospital is no longer working to teach Martinez ASL.

"We're warehousing him under the guise that whatever is happening is medical," Clancy said. "The treatment should have something to do with why he's there."

Shaw believes Green's definition of medically appropriate treatment is too broad, while Clancy's is too narrow. Another hearing date was set for April 29 in Williamsburg-James City Circuit Court to discuss the subject again before Shaw makes a ruling.

If Shaw rules that Martinez should continue receiving treatment the hospital will likely begin teaching him ASL again and his case would continue being brought up for review in court every six months, Green said.

"The same treatment we started with is what we're going to do. The only difference is that now we know it won't work," Green said. "The government has an interest in putting away this individual because he can't be held accountable to our laws."

Mayfield can be reached at 757-298-5828.

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