Miguel Martinez, 17, became youngest person on death row after ‘Satanic’ rampage
Miguel Martinez became the youngest person in the history of the state of Texas to be placed on death row aged 17 – for good reason.
Despite a childhood that predominantly passed by with little to note, no sign of gang-related activity or any misdemeanours, Martinez is behind one of the most chilling triple homicide cases ever documented.
The evening of Thursday January 17 1991 began as any other – but would end the following morning with the bodies of James Smiley, 33, Ruben Martinez, 20 and Daniel Duenez, 14 littered with stab wounds with their skulls brutally caved in via an axe.
The case is now the latest subject under the spotlight of the Netflix documentary I Am A Killer.
Martinez, alongside classmates Miguel Venegas and Milo Flores, started the evening bemoaning their boredom, high under the influence of marijuana and cocaine – when Venegas pitched the idea of going out and robbing someone.
They settled on local Baptist minister James Smiley, who was already known to Martinez from his days working under him at a nearby Arby’s restaurant. Knowing full well he lived alone, Martinez and Venegas plotted the idea of robbing his home as he slept.
Venegas suggested they travel armed, picking out multiple knives from Flores’ garage as well as a heavy wood-cutting axe.
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"He was on a mission for Satan"
Before they had even forced entry the plan had hit a snag, Smiley had guests over, with one in the living room – visible from the outside window.
From the visitation room in the Texas Prison he is set to spend the rest of his life in, Martinez claimed "Venegas was on a mission and it was not to go steal anything. To him, he was on a mission for Satan – Satan wanted their souls.”
Though the pair now tell very different accounts of that night, one thing they do agree on is Venegas’ sinister ramblings about the devil.
Recalling the seconds before he committed the first murder, Venegas told the camera: "We go to the windows and I see three dudes in there.
"Now everything's changed. I have to kill these three people. Then I remember when I was younger. And I say: 'More souls to the devil.'"
He mentions how his first victim wakes up for a few seconds, before closing his eyes to go back to sleep, this stroke of luck was the devil "having his back" according to Venegas.
He proceeded to swing the huge axe violently into the sleeping victim’s skull, before repeatedly stabbing him in the stomach.
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A 14-Year old Victim
Once Venegas had finished stabbing the already lifeless victim, he claimed it was now Martinez’ turn.
Martinez explained: "The part I remember is Venegas looking up at me with the knife and telling me it was my turn.
"I unfolded my knife, looked at the body there, stabbed it and walked to the back yard."
Physically sickened by what he had done, Martinez took to Smiley’s front garden to vomit, while Venegas prowled the house for more victims. He eventually found someone asleep in a guest bedroom, failing to notice his second victim was a 14-year-old child before it was too late.
Venegas proceeded to find the master bedroom, occupied by James Smiley, and bludgeoned the 33-year-old churchgoer to death with the axe.
Before departing, Venegas turned a crucifix that lay by Smiley’s bed upside down, as a final ode to the devil. Martinez and Venegas stole Smiley’s car on their way out.
Flores, the son of the state district judge at the time, confessed to police that his friends had committed the monstrosities using weapons sourced from his garage. Martinez was arrested and sentenced to death in 1992.
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The Death Sentence
Though Venegas actually played a more prominent role in the murders, Martinez was deemed "party" to planning and executing the crime and having been sentenced at 17, he became the youngest person on death row in the history of Texas.
Some controversy has surrounded the fact Flores faced no charges despite both providing the weapons and driving the pair to the house, with many claiming his father exerted his significant legal influence – a claim denied in the documentary.
Venegas, the man who committed the bulk of all three murders, dodged the death penalty as a result of his age at the time of the killings – just 16.
In 2002, Martinez’s sentence was commuted after a huge international campaign, and he now faces life imprisonment rather than death row.
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