VISALIA — A man who says he was a cartel enforcer pleaded guilty Tuesday to nine counts of murder in California after acknowledging to investigators that he had committed killings across the country.
After being arrested in 2013, 53-year-old Jose Manuel Martinez opened up to investigators about his violent career that he said involved more than 30 killings.
However, authorities said he refused to name his cartel associates.
Investigators said they believed Martinez about being an enforcer, even though they could not independently confirm his actions.
“It’s not like you can go to a business front door and ask if Jose worked for you,” said Tulare County Assistant Sheriff Scott Logue. “There were whispers for a long time.”
Logue said Martinez did provide details of clothes, body positions and the caliber of weapons involved in killings.
“He was spot on almost 100 percent of the time,” Logue said.
No DNA evidence was used in the investigation, he said.
Martinez will be sentenced next month to life in prison without the possibility of parole under the terms of a plea deal that removes the possibility of the death penalty.
The deal came on the same day a preliminary hearing was set to begin to determine if Martinez would stand trial.
Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward said prosecutors were pleased about resolving the case. No relatives of victims disagreed with the decision to offer the deal, he said.
Martinez also pleaded guilty to a count of attempted murder of a 17-year-old.
In court, Martinez answered “guilty” to each count read aloud by Judge Brett Alldredge.
Nathan Leedy, an attorney in the county public defender’s office who represented Martinez, declined to comment outside of court.
Last year, Martinez pleaded guilty in Alabama to killing a man for making derogatory remarks about Martinez’s daughter. He was given a prison sentence of 50 years.
In California, he was charged with killing people in Tulare, Kern and Santa Barbara counties between 1980 and 2011. The victims ranged in age from 22 to 56.
Investigators say that in 1980, Martinez shot a man who was driving to work with three other people in the vehicle. Martinez was accused of shooting another man in bed early one morning in 2000 while the man’s four children were home.
Martinez had lived at times in Richgrove, a small farming community in Central California about 40 miles north of Bakersfield.
He was arrested shortly after crossing the border from Mexico into Arizona and began to disclose details of his past while facing the case in Alabama.
“After he confessed to it, it was just like opening up the floodgate,” Tim McWhorter of the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office in Alabama said at the time.
Martinez also is facing two murder charges in Florida.