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Missing videotape cuts murder trial short
Lost interview evidence from 2006 case leads to lesser charge, 30-year sentence
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Prosecutors and Hall County Sheriff’s Office officials do not know what happened to a videotaped 2006 interview that was involved in a murder case years later.

Victor Alfonso Martinez, 31, pleaded guilty to a lesser aggravated battery charge Aug. 27 in the March 2013 death of 6-year-old Edwin Ledesma after the Hall County District Attorney’s Office raised concerns over proceeding without the tape.

Martinez received 12 years in prison to run consecutively with his previous 18-year sentence on child cruelty and aggravated battery charges when Ledesma was a newborn in 2006.

“I think the (Hall County) Sheriff’s Office believes that they released it to the (Hall) District Attorney’s office,” assistant district attorney Kelley Robertson said at the plea hearing. “The district attorney’s office doesn’t have it.”

Martinez was indicted in September 2013 on a malice murder charge.

The tape includes Martinez being questioned by police, and eventually “picking up a roll of paper towels and showing the investigators how he shook the baby,” Robertson said.

Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh wrote in a statement that his office was never able to unearth the tape.

“I am confident that the D.A.’s Office never had possession of the tape itself. Apparently, the tape had not been placed in the Property and Evidence division of the (Hall County Sheriff’s Office) as there is no P&E form indicating so,” Darragh wrote.

Without the tape, Robertson asserted concerns about losing a conviction in the child’s death at the time of the plea hearing.

If the trial were to continue, the issue of trying Martinez for the same offense twice might have allowed him to withdraw his earlier guilty plea on the child cruelty charge, Darragh wrote.

“Taking all into account, a total 30-year sentence for this defendant was acceptable,” he wrote.

Douglas Perry, Martinez’s attorney from the 2006 child cruelty proceedings, declined to comment.

Back in 2006, the lead investigator in the case was Dan Franklin, who was promoted to internal affairs sergeant in 2013 by Hall County Sheriff Gerald Couch.

“It’s generally entered into evidence before the case is closed, and once the case is closed it gets purged, which may have very well happened in this case,” Franklin said.

Franklin said evidence is usually entered by the lead investigator, which would be Franklin in this case.

Franklin said he could not make any confirmation about the tape being entered into evidence due to departmental policy.

Senior public defenders Larry Duttweiler and Bret Willis represented Martinez in the murder charge proceedings. They previously filed a motion to have Martinez’s previous statements suppressed.

“There are some pieces of evidence that get destroyed eventually so that evidence locker rooms don’t become as big as a football field,” Duttweiler said.

Darragh wrote he does not expect this to happen again.

“This was clearly an unfortunate anomaly, and is not likely to re-occur, and most evidence of this nature is now transmitted digitally and is easily recoverable,” Darragh wrote.