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Church seeks mercy as molester sentenced
A very unusual case of a 21-year-old Oak Harbor man who confessed to molesting nine children while babysitting them ended Friday with a very unusual court hearing.
In the end, Island County Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock agreed with the recommended sentence presented jointly by the prosecution and defense. Under a plea bargain, Nathan Martinez pleaded guilty last month 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.
Hancock handed Martinez an indeterminate sentence of 20 years to life in prison.
Unlike the typical sentencing for sex offenders, the afternoon wasn’t dominated by voices of anger. Nathan Martinez’s family and friends from his church packed the courtroom in Coupeville. Eight people from the audience, including parents and grandparents of the victims, spoke in support of Martinez. They described him as a good person who should be forgiven for making a bad mistake. They asked the judge for mercy and argued that he needs treatment and not a long prison term.
“I know he is now at peace and free of all the pain he was living with, hurting the people he loved so much...” his mother said. “I wholeheartedly believe he is not a threat to the community.”
Martinez gave an unconventional and emotional speech on his own behalf. His attorney, Darrin Hall of Coupeville, got permission for Martinez to stand up and address the families of the victims, but he instead faced a TV camera for most of his pleas.
Martinez said “everyone knows how sorry” he is, but he added that he never expected such forgiveness from family and friends.
“They showed me a love that I’ve never experienced in my life,” he said.
Martinez said he was very upset that, under proposed court-ordered conditions, he won’t be allowed to have contact with the victims, who are ages 3 to 11. He claimed he’s not a threat to the children anymore. More importantly, he said it’s important for the children to hear from him.
“These kids are going to suffer,” he said. “They didn’t have an opportunity to forgive me because I didn’t have an opportunity to go back into their lives and apologize.”
Martinez said he was abused as a child and the perpetrator never apologized. He said he wasn’t able to forgive “that person” until recently.
In a rare decision, Hancock ruled that Martinez may write a letter of apology to each child and it will be delivered if both the Department of Correction and the parents approve it in advance.
In his presentation to the judge, Hall emphasized the fact that Martinez basically turned himself in to police. Martinez and the families of his victims went together to the police department and Martinez confessed in detail to the crimes. Martinez worked as a babysitter for members of his church, Living Faith Christian Center, when he molested or raped the children.
“He wanted to get help, he wanted to avoid putting the children through any more and he took responsibility early on,” Hall said.
But not everyone spoke favorably of Martinez. Chief Criminal Prosecutor Colleen Kenimond said that the recommended sentence balances the needs of the state with those of the children.
Helen Desmond, a community corrections officer, interviewed Martinez, the victims and their families. She recommended that Martinez receive a greater sentence based on the fact that he abused a position of trust, “groomed” the children before the assaults and doesn’t believe he needs treatment.
“He believes the worst thing for the children is to see him punished,” she said.
LaMonica Davis, a mother of three of the victims, said she’s been stripped of her relationships at the church because she refused to go along with a “plan” to support Martinez. She said her family was hurt by Martinez’s actions and her kids question whether it was their fault.
“Nathan, you were wrong and it hurt and I’m trying to forgive you ... ” she said. “Stop lying to yourself, saying you and the kids are alright.”
Before passing sentence, Hancock said he could appreciate the pleas for forgiveness, but explained he must follow the law. He called Martinez’s actions “predatory” and “appalling conduct.”
“My primary concern is with the victims of these crimes,” he said.