Suspect to remain in jail until trial starts

Shooter’s lawyers claim he was acting in self-defense, but detention appeal fails

By Nicholas Gilmore



Santa Fe New Mexican


A man accused of wounding a Native American activist by gunfire at a September protest in Española will remain in jail pending his trial, the New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled Monday. Ryan Martinez, 23, of Sandia Park faces charges of attempted first-degree murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and reckless driving after the Sept. 28 incident at the Rio Arriba County complex, where protesters and counterprotesters had clashed over plans to install a statue of a Spanish conquistador. Prosecutors also are seeking firearms and hate crime sentencing enhancements against Martinez, which would add prison time to his sentence if he is convicted of all the charges. He faces a potential sentence of more than 24 years in prison. Martinez’s attorney had appealed an order from state District Judge Jason Lidyard earlier this month to keep him detained until his trial, scheduled to begin in May. Albuquerque attorney Marshall Ray, who is representing Martinez, said the appeals court decision affirming Martinez’s pretrial detention was “disappointing, but not surprising.” Cellphone videos widely circulated on social media appear to show Martinez shooting Jacob Johns of Spokane, Wash., after a scuffle with Johns and other protesters at the Rio Arriba County headquarters in Española, where officials had planned to install a 30-year-old bronze statue of conquistador Juan de Oñate. Several Native American groups held a dayslong protest of the installation outside the building. Counterprotesters, including Martinez, also gathered at the site the morning of Sept. 28, when a celebration of the statue had been scheduled. Martinez’s attorneys, who have said he acted in self-defense when he fired a shot at Johns, claim in a new court filing prosecutors have advanced an “inaccurate and misleading” narrative of the shooting. The so-called Brady motion, which seeks the release of evidence that could prove favorable to Martinez and might discredit some of the state’s witnesses, also calls attention to Johns’ criminal history. Ray and fellow defense attorney Nicole Moss present records in the motion showing criminal charges and convictions for Johns in Arizona, Washington and North Dakota, including an aggravated assault conviction in 2003. The motion refers to Johns as an “out of state agitator.” It lists counts of criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct he faced in North Dakota in 2016. The charges — stemming from the protest against construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation — were dismissed. Ray said in an interview authorities have presented a “false narrative” about “peaceful, law-abiding demonstrators who were disrupted by a violent and antagonistic Ryan Martinez.” “What this shows is that it’s quite a bit different than that,” Ray said of the motion. The attorney said Martinez did fire a shot at Johns, wounding him. “It doesn’t look like there’s a dispute about that,” Ray said. “He was in fear for his life.” Johns, a climate activist who joined local Indigenous protesters at the demonstration in Española, was shot in the abdomen and underwent multiple surgeries at a hospital in Albuquerque. He has since returned to Spokane to continue his recovery. He is part Hopi and part Akimel O’odham. Attorney John Day, who is representing Johns and his family, said the new court filing shows Martinez’s defense will be based on the same “racism, hatred and bias” he believes also guided Martinez’s actions Sept. 28. “They seem to be arguing that Ryan Martinez knew Jacob had a criminal history, which is ridiculous,” Day said. “It’s clear that the defense, in this case, is going to be built on a foundation of racism and hatred toward Native Americans.” Day called the defense strategy “shocking and disgraceful,” saying it appeared to suggest because Johns had a criminal record, “he somehow deserved to be killed.” Nathan Lederman, a spokesman for the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office, wrote in an email prosecutors would respond to statements from the defense attorneys in court. “We will produce evidence, as we do in every case, as we receive it from the law enforcement agencies involved,” Lederman wrote. The defense team’s court filing also included a Sept. 26 letter from Rio Arriba County Sheriff Billy Merrifield to county commissioners, asking them to reconsider putting the Oñate statue back on public display. The bronze depiction of the conquistador on horseback had been removed from a site in Alcalde in 2020 and placed in storage to protect it from damage during protests held at the time. Merrifield’s letter referred to “intelligence” his office had received about the potential for the planned Sept. 28 celebration to boil over with violence, “such as a possible riot and to include physical force from protesters to remove or bring down the statue.”