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Oak Harbor child molester's plea keeps victims safe from testifying

Nathan Martinez of Oak Harbor appears in court Wednesday. He pleaded guilty to nine counts of sex crimes involving children. - Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times
Nathan Martinez of Oak Harbor appears in court Wednesday. He pleaded guilty to nine counts of sex crimes involving children.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland / Whidbey News-Times

In court Wednesday, Nathan Martinez seemed to be at peace about his decision to accept a deal that will send him away for at least 20 years.

The 21-year-old Oak Harbor man answered "guilty" as Island County Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock read a list of nine counts of child-sex crimes, one count for each victim. He was originally charged with 30 counts, but agreed to a plea bargain proposed by the prosecution.

Under the agreement, the prosecution and defense will both recommend that the judge give Martinez an indeterminate sentence of 20 years to life at the Oct. 24 sentencing hearing. The recommendation is the minimum under the standard sentencing range for the charges.

Outside the courtroom, Chief Criminal Prosecutor Colleen Kenimond and Martinez's defense attorney, Darrin Hall of Coupeville, stressed that the agreement will save the victims from having to testify in court. The victims are boys and girls, ages of 3 to 11.

"Mr. Martinez didn't want to put them through any more than they've already been through," Hall said.

The police report on Martinez contrasts sharply with the man who appeared in court. Detective Teri Gardner's report describes a tormented man who knew what he was doing was wrong and tried to stop, but just couldn't. He even apologized to the children after assaulting them.

Yet in court, the handsome and soft-spoken man smiled and appeared at ease as a TV camera and all eyes focused on him. More than a dozen people came to the hearing to support him. Two pastors from Living Faith Christian Center, where Martinez volunteered with children and met the families of the victims, wanted permission from the judge to visit the young man in jail.

After the hearing, Hall described his client as affable, articulate and respectful.

"He's a very religious man and I think that's what he hopes will help him get through this," the attorney said.

But above all, Hall pointed out that Martinez took responsibility for his actions, as devastating as they were. The police were unaware of the crimes until Martinez, along with families of the victims, came to the police station. He confessed in detail to sexually assaulting the children while he was babysitting them.

After he was charged, Martinez quickly agreed to the plea bargain and at least 20 years in prison.

Kenimore described Martinez as being compulsive. She was very troubled when Martinez contacted victims and their families over the phone and through letters — an accusation the defense challenges. She called a special hearing last month and convinced a judge to hold Martinez in jail without bail or phone privileges.

In court Wednesday, she was still concerned about allowing Martinez to use the phone.

"He has shown he cannot stop" contacting the children, she said.

Martinez pleaded guilty to one count of rape of a child in the first degree, seven counts of child molestation in the first degree and one count of attempted child molestation in the first degree. He pleaded guilty to the final count by way of an Alford's plea, which means he doesn't admit his guilt but concedes that the prosecution has enough evidence to convict him at trial.

The plea agreement included a two-page document outlining the factual basis for the plea. It states that all the crimes took place between June 1, 2007, and July 31, 2008. Except for the rape, all the crimes are described as Martinez "rubbing" a child's body part.

Judge Hancock said he wants to ensure everyone has the right to be heard at the sentencing.

"Anyone who wishes to address the court will be welcome," he said.

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