THE MISSING PIECE

A hotheaded Border Patrol agent is the only suspect in a double slaying. One of his guns has vanished, and he's still got his job.

"Still, she later told a detective she didn't think Martinez capable of murder. She considered him an insecure man who acted cocky as a front.

Veteran sheriff's detectives Vince Madrid and Mike Raffety knew little about Martinez and his possible involvement in the murders when they knocked on his door that morning of August 8, 1994.

They told the agent they were investigating a double homicide, and that he'd been identified as one of the last partygoers at the murder scene.

The cops asked Martinez to describe his activities of Thursday evening and early Friday morning: "I went to the B&P, and what did I do? I went to a fucking party out in the boonies," the agent said.

He admitted he'd stayed at the windmill with two other guys, but he couldn't remember their names. He then hit the detectives with a bombshell.

"I was partying with those two guys, and these [other] two guys drove up in a pickup. They got out, and we bullshitted, drank beers, we partied. And then I left, man, somewhere around four in the morning, I guess it was. . . . I had to go and get some shots in Sierra Vista; I had to wake up early."

"You went home to try to get some sleep?"
"Right. I had to work the next day at two, so I wanted to get some sleep.
"Martinez couldn't describe the two guys in the pickup, other than to say they were Mexicans. He said the mood had been friendly until he left: "We talked about women. We talked about all kinds of stuff.

"The detectives were skeptical about two strangers appearing in the middle of nowhere a few hours before dawn. The interview turned confrontational.

"Do you carry a gun?" Raffety asked Martinez.
"No, I don't have a gun. . . . I have my .357 duty weapon right there. It's in my bedroom."

"The only gun you own is your duty gun. Is it department-issued?"
"Yeah . . ."
"You've never owned any other guns?"
"Yeah, quite a few. I own a couple, a shotgun and a .22."
"How about handguns?"
"Yeah. I own a Smith 9mm."
"Do you still have it?"
"Yeah, it's in my pickup. I keep it in my pickup.

"But in a lapse that would haunt the investigation, the detectives failed to ask Martinez to show them the gun.

If Martinez had produced the 9mm, experts probably could have determined if it was the murder weapon.

If he hadn't shown them the weapon, the simmering suspicions of the detectives quickly would have reached the boiling point.

But when detectives spoke with Martinez, sheriff's commander Rodney Rothrock explains, they didn't consider him a murder suspect.

"Because of decomposition, we didn't even know for sure yet that the men had been shot," says Rothrock, one of several officers who rushed to the murder scene. "We thought a law enforcement officer who had been at the party could accelerate our investigation. Instead, he became our main suspect.

"Martinez told the detectives he wouldn't take a polygraph test to confirm his account.

"Am I under suspicion of this shit, or what?" Martinez asked.
"Not at this point, no," Raffety said, waffling in the manner of shrewd police investigators everywhere. "We're just finding out what's going on.

"The detectives left the Martinez residence after 3 a.m., unaware that he'd failed to tell them many things of import.

When autopsies later that day revealed that the men had been killed by 9mm jacketed hollow-point bullets, the detectives instantly flashed on the 9mm gun that Martinez grudgingly had admitted to owning.

Testing that gun took on a sudden urgency.
The detectives obtained a warrant to search Martinez's residence, vehicle and work locker. They returned to his home at 8:20 p.m. on Monday to execute the search.

Martinez immediately phoned an attorney--not Mike Piccarreta--then told the detectives he wouldn't talk with them.

"Where's the 9mm, Mark?" Vince Madrid asked the agent.
"I guess you'll just have to find it, won't you?" Martinez replied.
During their searches, the detectives seized more than 5,000 rounds of 9mm ammunition--the same type of jacketed hollow-point bullets that killed Posada and Tapia. They found a holster for a Smith & Wesson 9mm.

But they didn't find any clothing that matched descriptions of what Martinez had worn to the desert party.

And they didn't find what they really wanted--Martinez's missing gun.
"In hindsight, maybe we should have asked the guy to show us the gun when he was still talking," says Rothrock. "Maybe we'd have a different situation today. But if he hadn't wanted to show it to us, he would have just said no way. We didn't have enough for a search warrant at that point. All we wanted was for a fellow officer to help us. But he didn't.

"The funerals of Eddie Posada Jr. and Sergio Tapia drew reporters and television crews from Tucson. Hundreds of people attended the ceremonies, at which mariachis played.

The two men were buried in Calvary Memorial Park in Douglas.
The mood of many in the town turned from grief to anger as days passed without Martinez's arrest.

By this time, Mark Martinez had retained the services of Mike Piccarreta. The Border Patrol placed Martinez on administrative leave with pay, and he moved to Tucson at his new attorney's request.

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