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Mother of man stabbed to death says son 'wasn't a criminal'

By Gabe Semenza
Sept. 26, 2010 at 4:26 a.m.
Updated Sept. 29, 2010 at 4:29 a.m.

Michelle Martinez shows her mother, Dale James, the photos in her camera. Some of them include photographs of her son, Lance Ponton, who was killed in early August. The family misses Ponton even during the outings. "Lance was more fun than all of us together," said Martinez.

want to HELP?If you have any information about the stabbing death of Lance Ponton, call the Victoria County Sheriff's Office at 361-575-0651. Ask for the investigations division.

The trial date for those accused of Ponton's death is not yet set.

WHERE TO GET HELPIf you or a loved one are a victim of crime, several support groups and agencies exist to help you cope. A few:

Mary Sue Woods, founder of Friends & Families of Violent Crime Victims. Contact Woods at 361-552-2091. Each year, she hosts the Tree of Angels ceremony in Port Lavaca - an event held to honor loved ones lost to violent crime.

The Center for Peace holds meetings once a month for victims of violent crime. For more information, contact Christina Harrison at 361-575-2249.

Each branch of local law enforcement employs crime victim liaisons. In Victoria, call Sara Palacios at the Victoria County District Attorney's office, 361-575-0468; Hilary Logsdon at the Victoria Police Department, 361-485-3700; Jennifer Kelley at the Victoria County Sheriff's Office, 361-574-8090.

Just weeks ago, Michelle Martinez visited a secluded family plot nestled in a wooded country field and stood a few feet from her first-born's grave.

The funeral flowers had wilted recently, and grass had yet to overtake the freshly turned dirt.

Martinez spread a pink blanket over the soil. She then fell to her knees and plunged flat on her stomach. She screamed, cried and writhed on the ground for more than two hours.

For the first time, Martinez, a 38-year-old Victoria mother and nurse, agreed to speak publicly about the stabbing death of her son.

"I had such a huge ball of pain and anger that I felt like I was choking on it," the mother said. "The only way I felt I could get rid of that was to visit Lance. I screamed and screamed and screamed. I pleaded with God for Him to take me and not my son."

Her son, Lance Ponton, died Aug. 4. The 20-year-old attended a house party on West Beck Road. Eyewitnesses suggest Lance flirted with a girl, which provoked a fight with another male partygoer.

Ponton was restrained and stabbed in the chest 11 times, police say. Two men were since arrested.

The image of his brutal death, the memories of her first child, twist Martinez's emotions and weaken her resolve to move on. Her husband, Mark Martinez, forces her out of bed each day.

"We cry ourselves to sleep together every night," the mother said. "It's like a part of our heart was just ripped away."

Martinez still sees her dead son, she said. She catches glimpses of him on the couch, in the yard and with his box of bugs.

Ponton was an animal and insect enthusiast who dreamed of becoming a veterinarian, the family says. When he wasn't fishing or bowling, he collected bugs, stored them in a box and bought books to identify them.

Ponton was also a hero to his three younger brothers. Dallas, the youngest at 13, falls asleep each night covered with his dead brother's jacket.

"C'mon, Bubba," Ponton would say to Dallas when the two middle brothers teased the youngster. "Let's go look for bugs and snakes."

While the parents readily discussed fond memories, the mother and stepfather also addressed their dead son's criminal past. Until now, they resisted defending him.

Comments posted on www.VictoriaAdvocate.com persuaded the parents otherwise.

"I never knew people were just plum mean until that," the mother said. "They didn't know Lance. He was a good kid."

Online readers suggested Ponton was a gang member, a dangerous criminal and deserving of his gruesome fate.

Investigators found no evidence to suggest Ponton was affiliated with any criminal gang, said Tom Copeland, a lieutenant with the Victoria County Sheriff's Office.

Texas Department of Public Safety records show Ponton was found guilty in June 2009 of check forgery and criminal mischief, both of which were felonies. He served one year in a state jail - until April.

The story behind his jail time paints a less criminal picture, his mother suggests.

When Ponton was 17, he stole a check, forged it and bought items totaling $60, according to the Jackson County district clerk.

About that time, he also took a joy ride in the country with friends and shot .22-caliber bullets at an unoccupied tractor, trailer home and camp house, as well as cows and a calf, the clerk said.

"He was, pardon my language, a redneck boy," Mark Martinez, Ponton's stepfather, said. "He thought they were going into the country to shoot at signs, and then he got caught up in it all."

Ponton, at the prodding of his mother, turned himself in - but he didn't immediately serve jail time. He first spent a year in the military. When he returned home, Jackson County prosecutors re-filed charges and sent him to jail.

"If I hadn't told him to fess up ... " the mother said, dropping her head. "I lost a year with him."

Time since her son's death, although brief, has not been kind to Martinez. She rarely leaves the house, she said.

"I don't think families ever really get over it," said Jennifer Kelley, a Victoria County Sheriff's Office crime victim liaison. "You can't put a timeline on it. Each person, each family goes through their own grieving process. I suggest for them to rely on their families and friends - and know help is out there. We'll do whatever we can throughout their grieving process."

For now, the mother hangs on to fond memories and asks the public to remember her son for how she sees him.

"He was a wonderful boy who made a few mistakes when he was 17," Martinez said. "He called me Mama. 'Are you OK, Mama? Are you OK?' It just kills me that people think he is a criminal."

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