Two brothers convicted 10 years ago for having their father killed are being released from prison early after a Lucas County judge yesterday rejected arguments from prosecutors that Tony Martin, Jr., and Thomas Martin pose a threat to the public.
Common Pleas Judge William Skow granted judicial release to the Martins, who were convicted in 1992 of having their father killed to collect $120,000 in life insurance. Tony Martin, Jr., 31, and Thomas Martin, 30, turned to each other and tightly embraced when the hearing ended. They also hugged and shook hands with their attorney, C. Thomas McCarter.
In granting super-shock probation, Judge Skow reviewed the circumstances and evidentiary problems that led to the Martins and Cedric Myers entering into plea agreements for their roles in the May 1, 1990, shooting death of Thomas Martin, Sr.
Mr. Martin, then 40, opened the door to his home in the 1300 block of West Woodruff when Terry Snipes, then 17, shot him three times with a .38-caliber pistol. Snipes fired into the victim after an unknown accomplice gave a hand signal to shoot. Mr. Martin, who was a carpenter and bricklayer, died from the wounds in his home.
Because he was a juvenile and was not certified to stand trial as an adult, Snipes received a deal to serve time in a juvenile facility in return for his testimony. Prosecutors planned to confirm Snipes' account of a plot to kill Mr. Martin with testimony from another witness.
However, the prosecutor's case against the brothers was dealt a blow when the witness married Tony Martin, Jr., and told prosecutors she no longer remembered anything. Judge Skow said the Martins had a realistic chance of an acquittal if the case would have gone to trial.
Although they were indicted for aggravated murder and faced possible death sentences, the Martins entered Alford pleas to charges of conspiracy to commit voluntary murder. In an Alford plea, a defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge rather then risk a greater punishment if found guilty after a trial on the original charge.
Judge Skow said the six-to-25-year prison terms the Martins received were just above the minimum they could have received on the charges. In addition, the judge pointed out that they were imprisoned before the 1996 revision of the state sentencing laws.
The judge said that under the current law, the Martins probably would have been released if they were convicted of the same charge because the sentence would not have exceeded 10 years.
Lucas County prosecutors opposed early release for the brothers, in part, because of numerous write-ups they received in prison for violating prison rules.
Thomas Martin was in isolation 44 days for 66 infractions and received 600 hours of extra work. Tony Martin, Jr., was isolated 36 days for 66 infractions and received 422 additional work hours.
Gary Cook, an assistant county prosecutor, said the numerous punishments given to the Martins are an indicator that they have not been rehabilitated and could commit new crimes if released.
The Ohio Parole Authority board recommended in 1996 that the Martins remain in prison until the end of their 25-year sentences. Mr. McCarter said the “flop” or extension of the sentence for Tony Martin, Jr. was a catalyst for a change in his behavior.
He said the write-ups cited by prosecutors were for minor violations of prison rules. He said the brothers had completed numerous programs that were available to them in the system, and received recommendations for release from counselors.
Judge Skow bemoaned the reluctance shown by the parole board to release inmates like the Martins who were sentenced to indefinite prison terms. He said a two-tier system with prisoners serving different sentences for the same crimes has evolved from the truth-in-sentencing law, or Senate Bill 2.
“The Ohio Parole Board has created a serious dichotomy within the prison system for identical serious offenses, depending on whether they were created before or after July 1, 1996,” Judge Skow said. “This is a problem. It is fundamentally unfair. Whether it was wise or not, the state legislature in passing Senate Bill 2 had determined that the maximum term for first-degree felonies such as these is 10 years.”
The victim's former wife, Joann Martin, was charged with obstructing justice in the case, but those charges were dismissed.
Ms. Martin, who is the mother of Tony and Thomas, bought a life insurance policy on her ex-husband about eight months before the shooting. The couple had divorced about 15 years earlier.
In 1999, Judge Skow granted shock probation to Myers, who received the same 6 to 25-year sentence that was given to the Martins. Judge Skow said Myers, who appears periodically in court for shock probation reviews, has kept a clean record.