PLAQUEMINE — Emotions were high Friday morning as family members on both sides of a 17-year-old homicide reacted to the news the accused killer accepted a plea deal allowing him to walk out of court with just five years’ probation.
Clint Martinez’s no-contest plea to negligent homicide and aggravated criminal damage was bittersweet for Adrina Moses, the mother of Leander “Lee-Lee” Johnson. Her son died from injuries the 29-year-old suffered when his Bayou Sorrel trailer was set on fire.
“I had no doubt in my mind that he did it, but it still doesn’t feel like justice was done,” Moses said outside the courtroom Friday morning.
Moses’ statements came moments after some of Martinez’s family got into a physical altercation with a news cameraman who was trying to film Martinez’s exit from the courthouse.
Martinez, 48, refused to answer any questions about his plea nor did he make any statements Friday in court.
Martinez originally was indicted on one count of second-degree murder in 2000, two years after Johnson’s death. Investigators determined Johnson died of asphyxiation caused by flash fire.
Johnson’s mother always has believed Martinez killed her son and set his trailer on fire in what prosecutors have described in the past as a “love triangle killing.” According to previous reports, Martinez and Johnson were once best friends, before Martinez found out Johnson was having an affair with his estranged wife.
Johnson was killed on the night of May 30, 1998, after attending a crawfish boil with Martinez’s wife.
Prosecutors allege that Martinez, humiliated by his wife’s public appearance with her lover, went to Johnson’s mobile home in a rage, cut the telephone wire, subdued the victim, doused him with an accelerant and then ignited the fire.
A no-contest plea has the same effect as a guilty plea in criminal court but would not be an admission of guilt in civil court.
Martinez avoided more than 10 years in prison for both charges.
As part of his plea agreement, District Court Judge Alvin Batiste also ordered that Martinez and his family stay away from Johnson’s family and that he pay restitution for Johnson’s trailer.
“This is a very difficult case,” Jeff Traylor, assistant attorney general, said outside the courtroom Friday. “It’s an old case and, factually, very difficult to prove. We figured this was the best course of action based on the facts of the case.”
A representative from the state Attorney General’s Office read a statement from Moses in court on Friday in which the grieving mother said Martinez would never have peace for killing her son. She also wrote that she hopes Martinez sees her son’s face every time he goes to sleep at night.
“There will never be closure for me,” Moses said. “He was my only child. My heart hurts every day. He didn’t deserve what he got.”
Moses has been seeking justice for her son’s death for the past 17 years — the amount of time the case against her son’s accused killer made its dramatic turns through the legal system.
Her hope for justice first crumbled in 2002 when state District Judge James Best declared a mistrial in Martinez’s case because of a deadlocked jury. It was previously reported that nine jurors wanted to acquit Martinez and three jurors voted in favor of convicting him.
The case then shifted into the appellate court system after Martinez’s attorneys at the time discovered the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office was planning to retry their client for the murder.
Using the double jeopardy clause in the U.S. Constitution, which protects a defendant from being tried twice for the same offense, a state ad hoc judge ruled in Martinez’s favor.
But the state appealed that decision to the Louisiana 1st Circuit Court of Appeal, which then overturned that decision.
Martinez’s attorneys didn’t give up though, taking their double jeopardy argument to federal court, where U.S. District Judge James J. Brady ruled in March 2010 in their favor and barred the state from retrying Martinez, previous reports state.
The state Attorney General’s Office appealed Brady’s decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, where a three-judge panel ruled in June 2010 that the state could proceed in retrying Martinez.
That retrial was set to take place last week in New Roads but was averted after Martinez agreed to the plea deal.
Surrounded by his family members as he left the courthouse Friday, Martinez was trying to avoid any contact with news reporters when Brandon Martinez, Clint Martinez’s nephew, got into a melee with a cameraman from WBRZ-TV.
Both men had to be separated and picked up off the concrete by a Iberville Parish sheriff’s deputy, who quickly took them into police custody and escorted both men into the Sheriff’s Office.
Clint Martinez kept walking to his car and left.
Iberville Sheriff Brett Stassi said Brandon Martinez initiated the altercation and was joined in the assault by Josh Falcon, Clint Martinez’s cousin.
“We had a lot of conflicting stories but learned from some unbiased witnesses it was him that started it,” Stassi said.
Brandon Martinez, 30995 La. 75, was booked into the parish jail on counts of simple battery and simple criminal damage to property. Falcon, 34285 La. 75, was booked on simple battery.
WBRZ News Director Chuck Bark said the station would pursue any legal action available to the station after the assault.
Moses said she wasn’t shocked when she heard later what happened outside the courthouse.
“That’s just the type of people they are,” she said.
She said members of Clint Martinez’s family have accosted her throughout the years since her son’s death.
“They act like I did something,” she said. “They think they’re above the law.”
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.