1992 Case of Hired Hitman Won't Be Reviewed After He Murdered Mother in Front of Baby

The California Supreme Court has refused to review the case of a San Bernardino County man convicted of being hired to stage a robbery and kill another man's 17-year-old wife in a La Mirada park -- a crime that went unsolved for nearly two decades.

Leon Andrew Martinez of Yucaipa was convicted in 2015 of first-degree murder for the July 23, 1992, killing of Victoria Ghonim, who was shot while sitting in a car with her husband, Morrad Ghonim, and their infant son, in La Mirada Creek Park.

Jurors found true the special circumstance allegations of lying in wait and murder for financial gain, which could have resulted in a potential life prison term without the possibility of parole. But Martinez struck a deal with prosecutors for the 28-year-to-life sentence in exchange for his testimony against the victim's husband, who was convicted by a separate jury in November 2016 of first-degree murder and the same special circumstance allegations.

Morrad Ghonim was sentenced in December 2016 to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The killing had gone unsolved until 2009, when DNA linked Martinez to the crime. He was arrested in October 2010.

Ghonim was charged, arrested and extradited from Antigua about a month after Martinez's conviction.

At a hearing in which Ghonim was ordered to stand trial, Los Angeles County sheriff's Sgt. Howard Cooper testified that Ghonim told him that he was with his wife and infant son at the La Mirada park, standing near a foot bridge, when they heard catcalls coming from a group of people standing nearby.

Ghonim told the investigator that his wife began shouting back at the group, then the family hustled back to their car, where his wife continued to shout at the group, Cooper said. Ghonim said that as he was about to turn on the vehicle's engine, he heard gunshots, and he quickly started the car and sped away, realizing then that his wife had been shot.

The sheriff's sergeant testified that Ghonim said he sped away to try to find a hospital, and that he was soon pulled over by a California Highway Patrol officer for running a red light.

Martinez gave various accounts to police and in court as to what Ghonim paid him, at one point saying Ghonim offered him $10,000 and actually paid $5,000.

In other testimony, Martinez said he was paid only $500. The lower number was supported by testimony from Ghonim's second wife and the mother of five of his children.

Martinez's conviction was affirmed in a Sept. 19 ruling by a three-justice panel from California's 2nd District Court of Appeal.

The California Supreme Court refused July 11 to review the case against Ghonim, whose conviction was upheld in a March 26 appellate court ruling.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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