A sentencing hearing for a Durango man convicted of first-degree murder for strangling his wife was postponed Thursday after defense lawyers raised questions about the defendant’s mental competency.
By law, 6th Judicial District Court Judge Suzanne Carlson had no choice but to postpone the hearing and order an evaluation after defense lawyers notified the court that their client, Silvino Martinez-Perez, may not have a firm grasp on the proceedings.
“After an hourlong conversation with him,” defense attorney John Moran said of Martinez-Perez, “we have to insist that we have concerns about his competency.”
Martinez-Perez, 36, who wore an orange jail-issued jumpsuit and shackles, stood up during the hearing and told the judge he wanted to move forward with sentencing. But Judge Carlson denied his request because when the issue of competency is raised in court, the law requires a competency exam, in accordance with the Eighth Amendment, which affords everyone the right to a fair trial.
“We will move things forward as quickly as we can, although I’m not sure we can set a court date,” Carlson said.
A jury convicted Martinez-Perez Aug. 22 of killing his wife, Crystal Martinez-Perez, 33, after the two had a lengthy argument in which she told him she wanted a divorce and that her body wasn’t his anymore.
Martinez-Perez called 911 at 12:01 a.m. April 17, 2017.
“I just killed my wife,” he told the dispatcher. “... I grabbed her by the neck and suffocated her, or whatever.”
During the trial, a defense lawyer told jurors that before calling 911, Martinez-Perez wrote a letter to his children encouraging them to stay in school. And when police arrived, he cooperated with authorities and even offered incriminating information about himself.
They argued Martinez-Perez acted in the “heat of passion” and his actions weren’t premeditated – therefore, he didn’t commit first-degree murder.
Jurors disagreed and convicted him of first-degree murder, abusing a corpse and three counts of child abuse.
Judge Carlson on Thursday ordered defense attorneys to file a sealed motion by the end of the day Monday raising issues of competency. Carlson also ordered that the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office allow defense attorneys to photograph images on the walls of Martinez-Perez’s jail cell. It was unknown what those images depict.