Before he was arrested and charged with stabbing and strangling an expectant mother in Terrytown last year, killing both the woman and her unborn child, Emilio Calderon told at least four different stories about his contact with the victim during the last minutes of her life.
First, he said he wasn’t in the same parish as she was on the day she was killed. Eventually, he admitted he killed her but said he did so while defending himself as she attacked him with a knife.
A Jefferson Parish jury on Thursday heard police-produced audio recordings of Calderon’s shifting version of events. And, before the day was done, the jury found him guilty of second-degree murder in the June 7, 2014, slaying of Katherine Martinez, 23.
It also found him guilty of first-degree feticide after deliberating about 90 minutes.
Calderon, who is 31 and did not testify in his own defense, faces a mandatory life sentence. He had tears in his eyes when a deputy led him out of the courtroom after the jury rendered its verdict.
Assistant District Attorneys Michael Smith and Sloan Abernathy argued that Calderon plunged a blade into Martinez’s chest and side, cut her back and fatally choked her in the kitchen of her apartment in the 600 block of Whitney Avenue.
After the victim’s mother found her daughter’s body, suspicion quickly centered on Calderon, who had dozens of photos of Martinez on his cellphones, even though prosecutors said she was no longer his girlfriend and was eight months pregnant with another man’s child.
Within three days of Martinez’s slaying, Calderon was being questioned by Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office investigators in Lafourche Parish, where he lived and worked. He gave four recorded statements about whether he’d seen Martinez before her death, and they all differed vastly from one another.
Speaking some English but mostly Spanish to two separate interpreters on the recorded statements, Calderon — a native of Honduras — initially said he’d not been away from Lafourche around the time Martinez was killed.
Then, he claimed he’d gone to a mall that was relatively close to her apartment. He then said Martinez had invited him to her apartment to have sex but that she canceled after he waited outside for about a half-hour, and he went home.
Finally, Calderon claimed he and Martinez had sex at her place and that Martinez attacked him with a knife during an argument about money.
Calderon said he snatched the knife away from Martinez, stabbed her on the side, and grabbed her by the neck with one hand “to control her” until she went limp. He left without calling for help because he was angry she’d attacked him, he said.
The Sheriff’s Office obtained a warrant to swab Calderon’s cheek for DNA and to photograph some scratches he had on his chest. Calderon claimed he got the injuries while welding and denied they were caused by Martinez.
At one point early Thursday afternoon, as the state neared the end of its case, Calderon indicated that he intended to testify in his own defense. But he later opted against that as he followed the proceedings through an interpreter.
Calderon’s lead attorney, public defender Jessica Mullaly, had filed court documents this summer saying she would argue that Calderon arrived at Martinez’s apartment to find a masked man standing over her dead body and that Calderon eventually confessed to killing Martinez solely to prevent his son from being harmed by the masked man.
Mullaly said the defense planned to fly the mother of Calderon’s son to New Orleans to testify that she had received threatening phone calls.
But jurors in 24th Judicial District Judge Adrian Adams’ courtroom in Gretna never heard that. Prior to the trial, which began Wednesday, the state successfully moved to exclude the woman from participating in the proceedings, arguing that she’d be offering hearsay.
In her closing argument, Mullaly said Calderon confessed to a crime he didn’t commit and that he was prosecuted merely because investigators failed to build cases against two other suspects.
Prosecutors denied that.
“He killed her … (and) her 8-month-old fetus,” Abernathy told jurors as a picture of Martinez’s dead, unborn child appeared on a courtroom monitor. “He ruined both of their lives — and the lives of their loved ones.”