A man was charged Thursday in connection with the beating and rape of a 64-year-old woman, who later died in Santa Maria.
Marilyn Pharis was a former U.S. Airman who worked for a contractor at Vandenberg Air Force Base, northwest of Santa Barbara. After two men broke into her home in Santa Maria on July 24, she was raped and beaten in the face with a hammer, according to police.
Victor Aureliano Martinez, 29, was arrested after Santa Maria police officers received a report from Pharis saying a man had entered her home and physically assaulted her, according to Santa Maria police.
"Despite having two broken eye sockets, she managed to dial 911," said Chief Ralph Martin with the Santa Maria Police Department.
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Pharis died on Aug. 1 at Marian Medical Center, according to Lieutenant Mark Norling with the Santa Maria Police Department.
Martinez hid in a nearby home after the attack in the 1000 block of West Donovan, but with help from a police K-9, he was arrested and booked for attempted murder, sexual assault, resisting arrest and residential burglary, according to Santa Maria police. He has since been identified by authorities as an undocumented immigrant, and Santa Maria Police said he has a criminal record in the United States.
His charges were upgraded Thursday to three special allegations under special circumstances of felony murder, a special allegation of torture, and a special allegation of use of a deadly weapon, said Ann Bramsen, Santa Barbara County Deputy District Attorney. He also faces a separate count two of first degree residential burglary.
Martinez pleaded not guilty through an interpreter in court on Thursday.
Jose Villagomez, 20, also arrested in Pharis' murder, faces three special allegations under special circumstances of felony murder, Bramsen said.
Days before the attack, Martinez was being held in custody on weapons and sexual assault charges, according to Santa Barbara County jail records. Federal immigration and customs enforcement requested for him to be held for deportation.
"There is a blood trail that goes from Washington, to Sacramento, to Marilyn's apartment," said Martin, the Santa Maria chief.
Yet, when those felony charges were reduced to misdemeanors, Martin said he had no choice but to release the suspect without notifying immigration officials.
Some people gathered outside the courthouse in Santa Maria Thursday, protesting the role illegal immigration had in this murder case.
One side of the street was lined with people protesting against illegal immigration, and the events that led to Pharis' death.
"The politicians don't want to do anything," said Richard Dydell, one protester. "He should have been deported."
Just across the street, others expressed their belief in pro-immigration rights. They say they believe Pharis' case was a tragedy, but feel the case is being politicized.
"We are here to say that generally immigrants are less likely to commit crimes," said community organizer Hazel Davalos.
"As you're all aware, this has garnered national attention, which has nothing to do with the case," said public defender Lori Pedego. "It has to do with our belief that other people are advancing their political agendas."
An earlier case has grabbed national attention when 32-year-old Kate Steinle was shot and killed allegedly by an undocumented immigrant in San Francisco.
Although the man was believed to be responsible for multiple felonies, he was released by San Francisco authorities, and the immigration officials who had wanted him deported were not notified.
When asked who he blames for this, one Santa Maria resident, Steve Lebard, said, "I think it's a broken system."
Rape crisis advocates also came out to the courthouse and wanted to focus on the victim.
"We are here to give voice to her," said Alison Wales with the North County Rape Crisis Center. "The fact that she was assaulted, and it happens every day in our community."