Victoria Building mugs

The outside of the Victoria County Courthouse.

5 p.m. update:

Two and a half years after the deaths of Michelle Johnson and Deward Kitchens, Jesus Martinez was found guilty of capital murder by a jury Friday afternoon. He was sentenced to life in prison with no chance for parole.

Friday afternoon update:

Witness testimony from the defense and closing arguments concluded on Friday, the fifth day of a Victoria double homicide trial, leaving jurors to begin deliberation.

Jesus Martinez, 32, who is accused of shooting and killing two Victoria residents in September 2018, has pleaded not guilty to capital murder and attempted tampering with physical evidence charges. 

Martinez would receive in a life prison sentence if convicted of capital murder.

Martinez's defense attorneys, Keith Weiser and Merri Nichols, said they sought to show jurors there is reasonable doubt about the shooter’s identity, pointing to inconsistencies in Kimberley Hoff's testimony and her statements to police.

Hoff was one of the state's key witnesses because she was the only person who testified to being inside a Victoria home on North Jecker Street where the bodies of Michelle Johnson, 31, and Dward Kitchens, 34, were later found by police.

Assistant District Attorney Jordan Fries, who is prosecuting the case against Martinez, said the evidence presented resulted in a grand jury declining to indict Hoff on murder charges. Instead, he said the evidence pointed directly to the defendant as the triggerman.

Going first for closing argument, Fries said the state had sufficiently demonstrated that Martinez killed the two. He also touched on Hoff's testimony, adding that it was "not out-of-the-ordinary" to have inconsistencies considering her background. However, he said her account was corroborated by four other witnesses and a subsequent investigation by Victoria Police Department officials.

In his closing argument, Weiser disagreed with Fries, saying the accounts of the witnesses, many of whom testified to regularly using drugs, did not paint a clear picture of who killed Johnson and Kitchens.

"It is a terrible thing that happened, but you do not know who pulled the trigger," Weiser said. "You just don't know."

In his rebuttal, Fries took his allotted 15 minutes to skim through body camera footage taken by Senior Police Officer Sherry Hornstein during Martinez's arrest on an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon charge for an unrelated incident later that September day. 

The footage, which was coupled with officer testimony on Wednesday, showed Martinez acting "erratic" and insulting authorities, Fries said. At one point, he says he is feeling homicidal while fielding questions at a hospital following his arrest.

"The man you see on that video is senseless and savage, and someone capable of a double homicide," Fries said. "That man is Jesus Martinez."

Jurors were excused for lunch about 1 p.m. and were instructed to return about 2 p.m. to begin deliberating.

Friday morning:

A former inmate who said one of the state's key witnesses admitted to the 2018 homicide has a connection to the defendant through her son, according to her testimony under state questioning on Friday morning.  

Alexandria Garcia, 39, of Victoria, who was called by the defense, testified Hoff said she committed the homicides herself while they were both in custody at the Victoria County Jail in 2018.

Under state questioning, Garcia said her son, who is in custody at the Victoria County Jail on a March 2020 murder charge, had shared a cell block with Martinez.

Assistant District Attorney Jordan Fries, who is prosecuting the case, asked questions probing the connection, saying it discredits her testimony.

Under questioning by the defense, Garcia said she came forward because she felt like the situation was similar to her son's, where authorities, she said, charged the wrong person with murder.

The defense called to the stand a Bay City grocery store clerk who testified Hoff threatened her with a knife after shoplifting from his place of work. Hoff was arrested on an aggravated robbery charge after the interaction in August.

The defense rested their case after the conclusion of the clerk's testimony.

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Chase covers breaking news, crime and courts for the Advocate. He graduated from Texas State University with a bachelor's in mass communication and journalism. He can be reached at 361-574-1286, crogers@vicad.com or at @chasedrogers on Twitter.

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Breaking News & Public Safety Reporter

"I am a North Texas native with a bachelor's degree in mass communication and journalism from Texas State University. I am privileged to work with the Advocate staff and contribute to their tireless effort to inform the communities of the Crossroads."

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