A woman wept on the witness stand, at times uncontrollably, as her accused serial home invader and rapist, acting as his own attorney, grilled her about what happened that morning.
Nathan Martinez, 37, confronted his accuser in a Richland County courtroom in steady but accusatory tones, asking the woman if she had in fact really been raped during a March 2014 home invasion in Forest Acres. In her testimony for the prosecution, he said, she had not said anyone kicked or hit her.
“You said that the individual used force,” Martinez charged.
The woman, who now lives out of state with her family, replied, “He used force by putting a gun in my face, by tying me up and threatening to kill me!”
It was an unusual day in court. It’s rare for defendants to represent themselves, especially in complex, violent crimes such as this week’s case.
Martinez also asked the woman how she could identify him to the jury in the courtroom now since she already had testified that during the incident, she told the rapist she hadn’t gotten a good look at his face and couldn’t identify him to police.
“I was lying to you!” the woman said, her voice shaking with sobs and addressing Martinez as “you” the perpetrator rather instead of an acting lawyer. “So you would stop and wouldn’t murder me and my children!”
Martinez had tied up the woman’s 11-year daughter and locked her and her 5-year-old sister in a nearby bathroom, according to testimony in the case. The father had just left for work and the family, who had just moved into their new home, was getting ready for the day.
During his cross-examination, Martinez spent 10 minutes grilling the woman about minute-by-minute details of the rape, including specific anatomical matters, as the woman wept.
At one point, the woman was asked about a ring stolen during the home invasion. She began to cry at the memory.
“It was a family ring that was handed down and was resized to fit my husband,” the woman wept. At that point, Martinez calmly poured himself a drink of water from a thermos on the defense table, ice cubes clinking. He sipped the water calmly, his eyes on the woman.
Prosecutors on Tuesday told the jury they intend to introduce evidence about a similar home invasion and rape that Martinez is charged with.
As Martinez represented himself, his latest former lawyer, Aimee Zmroczek, sat at the far end of the defense table, ready to assist if needed.
It was only after questioning Martinez and making sure he knew he was giving up his right to an attorney that trial Judge Knox McMahon allowed him to be his own lawyer. If McMahon had refused Martinez’s request to be his own attorney with cross-examination rights, the case could be overturned on appeal.
Before Martinez’s cross-examination of the woman, 5th Circuit assistant solicitor Meghan Walker asked her to tell the jury how that morning, just after her husband left for work, a tattooed man entered the house armed with a gun and picked up a hammer her husband had been using.
The woman pointed to Martinez and identified him as the man who put her and her family through a morning of “living hell,” as another prosecutor, Jessica Godwin, described it to the jury in an opening statement.
Later Tuesday, the mother’s 14-year-old daughter took the stand. The daughter, who was 11 when the home invasion happened, was unflinching as she testified about how Martinez had tied her up, then locked her and her sister in a bathroom outside where their mother was being raped.
“He put me in the bathroom with my sister and locked the door, and all I could hear was my mother calling, ‘Don’t!’” the daughter testified.
“When you heard your mom, how did you feel?” asked assistant prosecutor Luck Campbell.
“Really scared and sad,” the girl testified.
Later, under questioning by Martinez, the girl’s voice took on a hard edge. She stared at him as if daring him to fight, and letting the jury know she had no doubt it was the defendant who invaded their home that morning.
“You took me out and sat me against the wall with my sister,” the girl told Martinez as he questioned her about the sequence of events.
One of Martinez’s distinguishing features are four enormous tattooed letters on the front and sides of his neck. Sticking out above his shirt collar, the letters read CRIP, the name of a notorious nationwide gang.
Both the mother and daughter, as well as two other witnesses who saw Martinez near the Forest Acres apartment complex, told the jury Tuesday that the man they had seen that morning had huge neck tattoos.
During her testimony, the mother also told the jury that the home invader had forced her to telephone her office and tell her boss that she wouldn’t be coming to work. She testified that, although she was tied up with electrical cord, she struggled as best she could.
After the incident, the mother sat with a State Law Enforcement Division sketch artist. The resulting sketch, once aired on television, led to Martinez’s arrest within several days. He has been held without bond at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center since.