US cartel hitman admits to 40 killings

A MAN accused of carrying out nine contract killings in central California denies those charges but has confessed to killing 40 people over several decades.

Jose Manuel Martinez: Arrested in Arizona and held in Alabama. Picture: AP

Jose Manuel Martinez, 51, ­allegedly told investigators he carried out the crimes while working as an enforcer for a drug cartel.

Martinez was arrested last year shortly after crossing the border from Mexico into Arizona before being sent to Alabama, where he awaits trial on a single murder charge.

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However, investigators from across America heard of his ­arrest and came to question him in connection with other cases.

Defence attorney Thomas Turner, representing Martinez in the single murder case, said his client denies the charge.

Mr Turner said the charges and admissions were at odds with his apparent nature.

He said: “I’ve found him to be polite and a likeable individual. He has a good personality.”

Martinez faces trial in Alabama in June. He is then expected to be sent to California, where prosecutors claim he targeted victims in several parts of the state between 1980 and 2011.

Anthony Fultz, an assistant district attorney in Tulare County, said alleged victims ranged in age from 22 to 56.

One man was shot dead in 1980 driving to work, while two men were shot in 1982 working on a ranch, one survived.

The same year, another man went missing before being found two days later by ranchers, dead from stab and bullet wounds. A fifth man was found in 2000 shot dead in his bed. His four children were at home at the time.

In addition to the nine murder counts, Martinez was charged in California with one count of attempted murder and the special circumstances of committing multiple murders, lying in wait and kidnapping.

Four murder charges include the allegation he committed the crime for financial gain.

The California charges would make Martinez eligible for a death sentence if convicted.

Martinez has lived on and off in Richgrove, a farming community in central California, north of Bakersfield. He is being held in Alabama, awaiting trial over a 2013 killing.

Mr Fultz said Martinez is also wanted in Florida on suspicion of two killings there in 2006.

He said he was confident Martinez committed at least the nine killings with which he is charged, but he is aware of the much higher number to which Martinez has confessed.

“We’re actually not sure what the full scope is,” he said. “It will depend upon what the investigation shows.”

Martinez has spent brief stints in prison following a 2007 conviction on theft and drug charges. Tulare sheriff Mike Boudreaux said his deputies came in contact with Martinez while investigating violent housebreakings in late 2012 and early 2013.

Meanwhile, Martinez’s mother told the media she was overwhelmed by the news of her son’s alleged crimes.

“This is hard for me – really hard,” Loreta Fernandez said. “I’m still shaking. I’m not in a condition to deal with this.”

The Spanish speaker said last time she spoke to her son was in June, when he was detained crossing the Mexican border because of a warrant for his arrest in Alabama. She said she did not believe he committed the murders. “All I can say is God bless him and that not everything he’s saying is true,” she said.