Axel Zamarron pleaded guilty Monday to the 2018 murder of 18-year-old Española Valley High School graduate Cameron Martinez in a plea deal requiring Zamarron to testify against Mark Hice and other defendants in the incident.
The guilty plea to first degree murder would normally see Zamarron imprisoned for life. Because he was 17 at the time of the murder and classified as a serious youthful offender, he is eligible for up to 30 years in prison when he is sentenced after the conclusion of other trials in the murder.
Prosecutors dropped nine other charges including conspiracy to commit murder and tampering with evidence as part of the plea deal, as well as charges in a separate rape case.
Anton Martinez, another alleged shooter in the killing, no relation to Cameron Martinez, was also set for a plea hearing Monday, but it was pushed back to March 12.
Chief deputy district attorney Blake Nichols said Anton Martinez needed more time to consider his deal, the details of which have not been made public.
Nichols said Zamarron could testify that while he, Hice, and others drove in two cars down State Road 68 looking out for a man Hice believed wanted to kill him, Hice called the since-deceased driver of the car Zamarron was in. Nichols said Hice told them the car that actually contained Cameron Martinez and other teenagers was that of the man out to kill him.
Zamarron allegedly told Hice it was not the man’s car, but still shot at it after Hice opened fire. Nichols said Zamarron hit the car four times, but Hice fired the bullet that killed Cameron Martinez.
Nichols said they needed Zamarron to testify to this information because of the death of alleged driver Alejandra Gonzalez in an unrelated crash January 2020.
If Anton Martinez rejects his plea deal, he is set to go to trial May 8, to be followed by Mark Hice May 19 and Hice’s then-girlfriend and alleged driver Brittany Garcia June 3.
Savannah Martinez, no relation, took a plea deal in May 2019 admitting to riding in one of the cars and helping to dispose of shell casings. She pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence and is awaiting sentencing and the potential of release after the conclusion of other trials in which she agreed to testify.
On Feb. 27, Hice’s attorney Sheri Raphaelson sparred with Nichols on whether he was required to disclose to her documents relating to potential plea talks for Anton Martinez and Zamarron.
“It is beyond belief that there has not been any written proposed plea agreement provided at the very least to Axel Zamarron,” Raphaelson said.
She argued that she needed such documentation to prepare a defense because it would influence how Zamarron and Anton Martinez testified.
Nichols said nothing he would be required to disclose had been put in writing and that due to a court order in another case, he could not say why prosecutors waited months to hand over audio of a conversation with Anton Martinez, which Raphaelson claims indicate plea talks as far back as nearly half a year.