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Widow of slain deputy speaks about trials, justice

Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Martin was a great father to their children, widow Sarah Martin says. (Courtesy of Sarah Martin)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — She thought about what she might say, if she had the chance, if the man accused of killing her husband had been found guilty.

How she would explain what it felt like to learn that the father of her four children, one of whom he never had the chance to meet, was shot repeatedly in the back as he fled from the bullets. What it felt like to learn that her husband, a deputy with the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office, was killed by a fellow deputy.

How she would describe the anguish of sitting through not one but two murder trials, each one ending in a mistrial. How now a third trial was anything but certain. How Tai Chan, the deputy accused of her husband’s death, might walk away from it all a free man.

And how, Sarah Martin thought, she would help her children understand that actions have consequences and that justice prevails.

Because it doesn’t feel that way to her.

“It’s the worst nightmare that you have to live through,” said Martin, speaking publicly for the first time since that nightmare began when her husband, Deputy Jeremy Martin, was killed in a Las Cruces hotel in 2014. “And then you try to justify things to them that you can’t even understand.”

Last week, a special prosecutor dismissed the first-degree murder charge against Chan, adding that the case “possibly needs to be re-indicted for voluntary manslaughter with a firearm enhancement” to cure issues that had been raised by Chan’s defense attorneys.

It was another step in a case fraught with missteps, prosecutors blaming law enforcement, defense attorneys blaming prosecutors, a major judicial error and two juries unable to reach a verdict.

Sarah Martin has silently endured every moment, under the advice of the prosecution, unable to respond to what defense attorneys said on behalf of their client and against her husband.

“It’s like a stake through your heart how the defense refers to the man you’ve been married to for 12 years, the father of your children, a Christian man who helped his community as ‘the dead guy’ over and over,” she said. “They slander him, beat him up, and it’s like watching your husband die, again and again.”

Las Cruces District Attorney Mark D’Antonio, who sought the special prosecutor after the second mistrial, said Friday he will decide soon whether to retry the case on a lesser charge.

But with a third trial up in the air, Martin said this may be her last chance to say something about the case to the public.

“I want to put out the facts and these are the facts,” she said. “This man shot my husband five times from the back and pursued him down the hallway.”

Of those facts, there is little question. But what Chan has argued – and apparently what jurors from both trials have snagged upon – is that he fired his service weapon some 10 times in self-defense on Oct. 28, 2014, after a night of heavy drinking.

Chan, then 27, maintains he shot Martin, 29, after the two had gotten into an argument – first at one of the bars the two men had visited, then in their seventh-floor room at the Hotel Encanto. The men were staying in Las Cruces on their way back from transporting a prisoner to Arizona.

Chan testified that an enraged Martin pointed Chan’s own gun at him. The two struggled for the gun, one of the rounds striking Martin in the back of his right arm as he ran out of the room.

“Chan then pursued Jeremy out the door and into the hall where he proceeded to discharge his gun in a negligent manner, endangering everyone staying on the seventh floor,” Sarah Martin said. “Chan admitted to never seeing a weapon in Jeremy’s hand while Jeremy was fleeing for his life down that hallway, and still Chan proceeded to shoot Jeremy four more times in the back, targeting his vital organs.”

An autopsy report indicated that Jeremy Martin suffered five gunshot injuries – three in his back, one in the left buttock and the one to his right arm – all striking Martin from behind.

According to testimony, he was found slumped in a pool of blood near the hotel elevator, a bullet hole piercing the elevator door at what would have been level with Martin’s head.

“With all of this on record and under oath, Chan will have the opportunity to return to our community and have nothing to inhibit him from returning to the law enforcement field,” Sarah Martin said.

She was pregnant with the couple’s fourth child when she learned that her husband had been killed.

“I can’t even explain the whirlwind emotion of going into labor and bringing a child into this world all by yourself,” she said. “I’ve had to navigate the media alone and the court system alone. I had to try to be there for my children and the emotional turmoil that they’re going through, to try to give them hope.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

“We were 17 and 18 when we met at church, in a youth group,” she said. “We were so young, but we just knew. You know when you meet your soulmate, when you find the person you are going to spend the rest of your life with.”

She paused.

“We were very blessed with a full life,” she said.

And now she knows what she would say if she had the chance – how she misses him, how he should still be here, how justice sometimes works in a way that seems unfathomable, how there is no way to explain that to children, to anyone.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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