Vehicular homicide suspect changes plea

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

A Clovis man who agreed to plead guilty last week to vehicular homicide in connection with the July 4, 2003, death of a Clovis woman changed his plea in court Monday to “no contest,” an official with the district attorney’s office said.

Assistant District Attorney Fred Van Soelen said the plea means Joe Martinez, 44, is not admitting guilt in the death of 39-year-old Bobbie Lynn Sandoval but he believes there is enough evidence to convict him.

Van Soelen said Martinez pleaded no contest because he was so inebriated he doesn’t remember the incident.

“What (his attorney) was saying at the hearing was because he was so drunk and blacked out he doesn’t remember what happened, therefore he can’t plead guilty to it,” Van Soelen said.

Martinez’s attorney Thomas Harden did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Van Soelen said the no-contest plea doesn’t change the case or the maximum penalty of 17 1/2 years incarceration. He said the minimum sentence the judge could give Martinez is probation.

“I told the victim’s family it doesn’t mean anything in the end. In the end he was found guilty by the court,” Van Soelen said.

The date for a sentencing hearing for Martinez will be set after a pre-sentence report is complete, likely within the next 45 days, Van Soelen said.