The rape suspect cross-examined the victim? REALLY?

Being blind, Lady Justice missed a travesty in one of her courts Tuesday.

Being blind, Lady Justice missed a travesty in one of her courts Tuesday.

I don’t read a whole lot of crime news, because it seldom involves editorial points I want to make.

But this story sort of blew me away today:

Woman sobs on stand under questioning by alleged rapist

A woman wept on the witness stand, at times uncontrollably, as her accused serial home invader and rapist, acting as his own attorney, grilled her about what happened that morning.

Nathan Martinez, 37, confronted his accuser in a Richland County courtroom in steady but accusatory tones, asking the woman if she had in fact really been raped during a March 2014 home invasion in Forest Acres. In her testimony for the prosecution, he said, she had not said anyone kicked or hit her.

“You said that the individual used force,” Martinez charged.

The woman, who now lives out of state with her family, replied, “He used force by putting a gun in my face, by tying me up and threatening to kill me!”

It was an unusual day in court. It’s rare for defendants to represent themselves, especially in complex, violent crimes such as this week’s case….

Yeah, John. To say the least…

You hear about rape victims feeling like they’re the ones on trial, but I have never even heard of something this outrageous.

I read on to determine how such a miscarriage of justice could occur, and found this explanation:

It was only after questioning Martinez and making sure he knew he was giving up his right to an attorney that trial Judge Knox McMahon allowed him to be his own lawyer. If McMahon had refused Martinez’s request to be his own attorney with cross-examination rights, the case could be overturned on appeal….

Well, I’m sure that you, like me, are all broken up from worrying about Martinez and his rights.

Look, I’m not one of these people who goes on and on about how our system only extends rights to the accused and none to the victims, yadda-yadda. I believe in the rule of law. I believe in being innocent until proven guilty. And while I’m sympathetic, I feel like sometimes the victim’s rights movement can go a tad overboard.

But a terrible thing happened in one of our courtrooms yesterday. Even if you extend the “innocent-until-proven-guilty” thing to the point of saying “hey, maybe the guy didn’t do it” — you’re left with the fact that to this innocent woman and her innocent children, he did do it. And they were subjected to this outrage.

And I’m wondering whether there are any statutory remedies out there to make sure this never happens again…

40 thoughts on “The rape suspect cross-examined the victim? REALLY?

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    I thought John did a great job of explaining how this happens. No one is ever required to have an attorney, although it is standard practice to have one standing by to forestall appeals. Everyone is entitled to confront his or her accusers. It is horrible for this victim, but let’s not overlook how horrible the system is for pretty much all sexual assault victims. In this case, she had excellent prosecutors looking out for her. Way too many victims have no one on their side when they first bring accusations.

    The defendant did a pretty good job of convicting himself, it sounds like, as I am sure Luck Campbell and the other solicitors explained to the victim and her family.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Oh, I thought John did fine, too. There are reporters out there who wouldn’t think to explain to us why this happened; John is not one of those.

      I’m just saying that, having had it explained, I’m left wondering what if anything we could do to prevent it ever happening again…

      1. Zoe

        We could do away with the right to confront and due process and our justice system. Better that 10 guilty people go free than one innocent person is convicted. It’s not a perfect system which is why there are appeals and God.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Of course you’re right, Zoe. But sometimes when we do all the right things in accord with our fundamental principles, a terrible injustice occurs anyway.

          And I find it distressing, so I raise the question — how might we avoid further inflicting such human pain on innocents?

          I don’t feel right just saying “right to confront” and shrugging my shoulders…

  2. Bryan Caskey

    First, I just want to acknowledge the good use of the Dirty Harry quote so you know it’s not wasted.

    My wife brought this up to me last night, and we discussed it. (She’s a lawyer, also.)

    Yeah, this defendant has the right to act as his own attorney. It’s dumb for him to do so (for lots of reasons). Yeah, it’s rough that the victim had to be cross-examined by the suspect directly, but that’s our system.

    It’s basic procedure that you get to cross-examine people. But from what my wife was telling me, the victim (and her daughter) held up pretty well, and the back-and-forth was pretty damning for the suspect. I know Judge McMahon had to be gritting his teeth to let this happen, but there’s no choice. You want to have a mistrial and have the guy go free? Better to gut through the cross-examination and get a verdict that won’t be overturned.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Actually, I didn’t know where I got that locution from, but when you point it out, I do remember that Dirty Harry scene…

      Harry may have set the precedent, but that line of thinking was a much-used trope on TV in the 70s. It was something of a cliche for TV cops to gripe about the courts giving all the rights to the crooks. I had that in mind writing this, and the way I had it in mind was this… I wanted to express my sense of outrage WITHOUT sounding like one of those guys…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I watched that whole scene. When, at the end, Harry was asked how he knew the guy would kill again, I expected him to say, “I know things about people, Lily…”

  3. Doug Ross

    Yes, it was difficult to read about and horrendous for the woman and her children to relive. But what alternative is there? Was he offered a plea deal to avoid the trial?

    These types of crimes are why I will always be in favor of the death penalty. He did it. He is an irredeemable waste of human life. Execute him and let God sort it out. Or just put him in general population in a maximum security prison and let him experience the type of horrors he enjoyed handing out.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Of course he was offered plea deals. He thinks he can beat the rap. He went through several lawyers, and the last one (who lost the game of musical lawyers) had to sit at his table in case he changed his mind. He’s an arrogant narcissistic douche who is surely getting off on his slick defense….except, of course, as the Caskeys tell us, he isn’t nearly so clever as he thinks.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Yes, we all have the reassurance of knowing that he has a fool for a client. But that doesn’t really make it less horrible.

        In fact, in a way, it makes it worse.

        This cross-examination was sheer lunacy from the standpoint of his own defense. There was no reason for it. It in no way helped guarantee him a fair trial. There was no reason, beyond his idiotic obstinance, for this woman and child to have to go through this…

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          The reason was our constitutional right to confront our accusers.

          As I said, at least at this point, the woman and her daughter have the support of the prosecution. Way too many victims start out with way less, or never come forward at all.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Yes, our constitutional right to confront our accusers is stipulated. We’re all granting that.

            What I’m saying is that no cause, including his own, was served by his representing himself and cross-examining the victim. And to me, that just adds additional insult to the horrific nature of the event…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            You’ll notice that I didn’t propose anything. I said, “I’m wondering whether there are any statutory remedies out there to make sure this never happens again…”

            I wasn’t suggesting anything specific…

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              But let’s explore that…

              To what extent does the law do anyone any favors allowing them to act pro se? How valuable a right is that, outside a circumstance in which court-appointed counsel is incompetent or not truly making an effort on the client’s behalf?

              1. Bryan Caskey

                “To what extent does the law do anyone any favors allowing them to act pro se?”

                Zero. None. Nada. The empty set. “Lack of familiarity with legal proceedings is unacceptable and the court will not hold a layman to any lesser standard than is applied to an attorney.” Hill v. Dotts, 547 S.E.2d 894 (Ct. App. 2001). So, the court isn’t doing you any favors by allowing you to proceed pro se.

                I honestly don’t understand your second question. Can you rephrase, counselor?

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    A situation in which one might have reason to, as pilots have said of ejecting from a supersonic aircraft, commit suicide to keep from getting killed…

            2. Bryan Caskey

              Okay, just griping. I get it.

              Just remember, “gripes go up, not down. Always up. You gripe to me, I gripe to my superior officer, so on, so on, and so on. I don’t gripe to you. I don’t gripe in front of you. You should know that as a Ranger.”


  4. Burl Burlingame

    Rape generally isn’t about sex, it’s about power and dominance and humiliation, and the defendant got to stick it to the victim one more time. But yeah, he scuttled his own defense to do so.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      I agree in this case and other stranger-rape cases, but there are all those “lack of ability to consent” cases (intoxicated victim) that have come to light, that probably were about sex, coupled with a lack of respect for another’s autonomy.

  5. Brad Warthen Post author

    Speaking of rape, this just in…

    I’m trying to catch up on email this afternoon, and I got a message through from a young woman — apparently African-American, although I can’t exactly tell from the avatar accompanying the message — who was making inquiries about someone on my family tree.

    It’s not a direct ancestor, but I did have him on the tree. It’s Sen. John Hemphill, 1803-1862. He succeeded Sam Houston as U.S. senator from Texas, and was chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court.

    Again, let me insist I’m not descended from him, but his sister Margaret was my 3rd-great grandmother.

    Anyway, I had exchanged a couple of messages with this young woman and told her what little I knew before asking her how she was related. I was curious, because neither Wikipedia nor any other source mentions Hemphill having a wife or any progeny.

    She replied two days ago, and I just now read it:

    John Harrison Hemphill is my maternal 2nd-great grandfather. The Senator never married, although he had 2 daughters by his female slave…

      1. Lynn Teague

        I’ve been deep into genetic genealogy for quite a while and administer two large group DNA studies at Family Tree DNA (the old Orangeburgh District study which includes several modern SC counties and the Duke/Dukes surname study). I can assure you that there will be more instances of this, given your deep SC roots, unless all parts of your family are exceptional. Looking intensively at my own genetic matches has led to identifying several mixed-race lineages that apparently involved this kind of situation, which in the interest of accuracy we can just call rape.

        The good news is that I’ve come to know some really wonderful extended family members this way. Some of us stay in touch by email, Facebook, and in one instance by a visit here for the dedication of an historical marker with family associations. Some in the DNA groups that I administer prefer to ignore these newly discovered connections, but I think that is their loss.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Three-fourths of my family is from SC — all of my mother’s side, plus my father’s mother’s family.

          The Warthens, my father’s father’s people, are from Maryland, where they’ve been since the 1600s — which I find intriguing myself because that increases the chance that they were Catholic when they came over. Why else settle in Maryland in that century?

          There aren’t all that many Warthens in the world, but quite a few of those who do exist are black. I think they mostly come from the branch from around Warthen, Georgia. I’ve not figured out exactly how the Maryland Warthens (or Wathens, as I think the first ones in this country were called) are related to the Georgia ones, from whom that unincorporated community gets its name.

          I need to go to Warthen, Ga., sometime and see what I can find. So far, I’ve been an armchair genealogist, satisfied with what I can find on the Web — there’s just so much of that, I’m nowhere near filling in all the people I can find on various online databases…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            The Web stuff is very seductive. Lately I’ve been spending WAY too much time tracing connections that go back and back and back — into the Middle Ages, as ridiculous as that sounds.

            That is SO much fun — taking a line a seeing how far back it can go — that I’ve been neglecting the far-more-certain folks from the last century or two. (And of course, most of my lines tend to peter out in the 19th or 18th centuries. But the rare ones that DO stretch way back are so much fun. Like catching a really big wave while surfing.)

            For that matter, I need to spend time tracking down LIVING people, but they are hard. It’s much easier to get the vital statistics on someone who has a grave and an obit.

            Morbid, huh?

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              ONE advantage to the living — they often have Facebook pages, and that’s a good source of photos. I try to have photos of everyone from mid-19th century on, but a lot are still missing…

            2. Lynn Teague

              Not quite morbid, but one of my brothers once told me that between my profession of archaeology and my hobby of family history it seemed I just couldn’t leave dead people alone.

              In tracking down the really old lines, one of my longest came about when I figured out that my mid-1700’s Hazelwoods in Orangeburg were actually Eisenhuts from Gais in Appenzell Ausserrhoden. I put that on our Orangeburgh German-Swiss Genealogical Society website, and very shortly heard from the son of an Eisenhut family researcher from Appenzell Ausserrhoden. He told me that they knew that Johannes had died in Carolina in 1742, but wondered what had happened to the rest of us. So I told him what had happened to us, and he sent me a well-documented line back into the 1400’s. Turns out when someone wrote home from far-flung places that someone had died, they recorded it in the parish records. So Johannes’ passing was recorded along with much earlier ancestors who had perished as mercenaries in Macedonia or of the Black Death in the Low Countries. (Lots of mercenaries in Appenzell, it turns out.) Fun stuff.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        I cannot imagine what the fired counsel could put in an email that would trigger a mistrial, at this time. Jury-tampering is a biggie. Something she saw or heard since yesterday that gave her pause, for sure.

  6. Candy Tibson

    I think when a rape suspect does this he just demonstrates to the jury his predatory nature. He thinks he is such a powerful guy, basically raping that poor woman again, and in a way he is, but so the whole world can see what he is. The judge had no choice but to let the defendant be his own attorney and cross examine the witnesses himself, otherwise any guilty verdict would be overturned and the whole thing would have to be done again.

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