A jury trial that was set to begin in less than two weeks for the pair charged in the death of Marilyn Pharis has been postponed until April, due to the defense counsel's impacted homicide trial schedule.
The trial for Jose Villagomez and Victor Martinez was expected to begin Feb. 5 but was postponed due to the fact that the defense team is slated to begin a special circumstances murder and robbery trial involving a pair of Hancock basketball players Feb. 7.
At an earlier postponement last year, Senior Deputy District Attorney Ann Bramsen reminded the court that Pharis' family members live out of state and that they planned on being in Santa Maria for the duration of the trial.
Trial confirmation in the Pharis case now is set for March 29, with the trial tentatively set to begin April 9.
Air Force veteran Pharis, 64, was reportedly attacked in her home in the 900 block of North Dejoy Street in Santa Maria on July 24, 2015, as she slept after working a night shift at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
It is alleged the pair broke into the home and were spotted by Pharis, who threatened to call police officials. She then was allegedly attacked by Martinez while Villagomez went to the window to check if anyone was coming, according to preliminary hearing testimony.
Autopsy results showed that the cause of Pharis' death was blood clots that had formed in her leg days after the alleged attack. Pharis died from her injuries Aug. 1.
The case garnered national media attention due to Martinez's status as an undocumented immigrant with prior arrest records. Martinez's attorney in the past had maintained that one's citizenship status should have no part in the courtroom, and that people have been inappropriately using the case to advance a political agenda.
Martinez was reportedly arrested in May 2014 for felony assault with intent to commit sexual assault but was charged with misdemeanor battery. ICE officials asked county officers to notify them when Martinez was released from custody on that arrest, but the notification never came.
Back then, County Sheriff's Office officials said ICE must obtain a federal court order to have local jails hold an individual on an immigration detainer. They also released a statement saying the department follows guidelines based upon the California TRUST Act. Per that law, when Martinez's felony was downgraded to a misdemeanor, officials couldn't hold Martinez without a federal order provided by ICE.
Officials also cited a 2014 federal Oregon court case, Miranda-Olivares v. Clackamas County, which ruled that holding a person solely on an ICE request may violate his or her rights under the Fourth Amendment.
Martinez was arrested again for drug and weapons charges July 17, 2015, just about a week before he and Villagomez were arrested for allegedly attacking Pharis. He pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor on the weapons charges and was released July 20.
Following that arrest, ICE declined to issue an immigration detainer after reviewing Martinez's case history and finding that he didn't meet the agency's enforcement priorities due to lack of felony convictions or deportations.
After Pharis' death, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, accused Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County of maintaining "sanctuary city policies" regarding illegal immigrants, which local officials denied.