A decade after a Perris man was strangled, his friend is sentenced for murder

Nearly two years after he was convicted at trial, a man incarcerated for time at a state mental hospital was sentenced Thursday, June 24, to 26 years to life in prison for killing one of his drinking buddies in 2011 and hiding the half-naked body in some landscaping in downtown Perris.

Jorge Alejandro Martinez, 52, who had lived in Homeland, was convicted in October 2019 of murder in the death of 47-year-old Sergio Corona of Perris. Authorities say Martinez strangled Corona with a sock and shoelace and bludgeoned him in the head with a rock, then jammed a branch in his mouth and tried to light his body on fire.

Martinez won’t be transferred from Riverside County jail to state prison until two other cases against him are resolved: He is charged with molesting the 4-year-old grandson of one of his friends a few days after Corona’s death, and with having a razor blade attached to a toothbrush handle under his mattress when his jail cell was searched in 2013.

The murder and molestation cases were delayed by years of mental competency issues, which prosecutors accused Martinez of faking.

Attorneys cite competency issues

His defense attorneys disagreed, saying in court documents that Martinez had schizophrenia as well as an intellectual disability and “abysmal” memory, all of which left him unable to remember his birth date or address or to accomplish basic tasks like putting on shoes or brushing his teeth. He also has visual hallucinations, attorneys wrote.

Eventually, after spending nearly two years in a state mental hospital, Martinez pleaded guilty in December 2018 to the murder and molestation charges. He was sentenced to 18 years to life, to be served in the mental hospital rather than prison.

However, in the summer of 2019, Martinez withdrew his guilty pleas. The court permitted the move after representatives from Patton State Hospital argued they shouldn’t have to house an inmate for that long — especially since they believed he had exaggerated his symptoms, had intentionally performed poorly on diagnostic tests and was actually mentally competent, according to prosecutors.

That led to a jury trial in late 2019. His attorney argued that the investigation was not competently done and that police arrested the wrong person, according to David Macher, the deputy public defender who represented Martinez at sentencing after the original public defender retired.

After Martinez was convicted, he originally was scheduled to be sentenced in January 2020, but delays occurred again — first routine issues, then the pandemic, and then the defense again raised questions about his mental fitness. He underwent another evaluation and was found competent last week.

A drunken night

Martinez and Corona were often seen together in downtown Perris, investigators said. One weekend night in June 2011, the friends got very drunk at a Perris restaurant, an employee told investigators.

“Her manager wanted them to leave, so the pair were given beers in Styrofoam cups and sent away” about 1 a.m., prosecutors wrote in a trial brief.

What occurred next remains a mystery.

“What happened between them, one man can’t say and the other man didn’t,” Macher said.

Corona’s body was found that Monday afternoon, June 20, by a Perris city landscaping crew on a median near 2nd and D streets, not far from the restaurant. His face was covered in blood and a sock was knotted around his neck. He had on a shirt but nothing else, although some shorts had been placed over his groin area and a pair of jeans was next to his body, prosecutors said.

Two foam cups were found nearby. One had Corona’s blood on it, with Martinez’s fingerprint left in the blood, prosecutors said.

Molestation arrest

A week later, on June 27, police were notified that a 4-year-old boy had told his mother that Martinez had put his mouth on the boy’s genitals.

Martinez was arrested July 2. A search of his home turned up a shoe with Corona’s blood on it, prosecutors said.

According to prosecutors, Martinez initially denied the molestation accusation when he spoke to investigators after his arrest, but eventually admitted it. Once he was sent to the mental hospital, he began claiming the boy made it up.

However, prosecutors said Martinez was caught at least twice masturbating while watching children on television, and once peeped into the stall of a “young-looking” fellow patient he’d followed into the bathroom. He was diagnosed with having a pedophilic disorder, prosecutors said.

Mental issues

Family members told investigators that Martinez suffered from mental problems due to injuries to his mother when she was pregnant with him.

“They said that Jorge was quiet and peaceful but loved to drink,” Investigator Ricardo Espinoza wrote in a 2011 affidavit. “They said he would not look for problems but if confronted, he would snap and become very violent.”

Relatives interviewed by The Press-Enterprise after his arrest contradicted that.

“My uncle is not a violent person,” Maria Martinez said. “He’s just not that type of person. He would get angry, but he’d just leave.”

Acknowledging that he drank a lot, she said alcohol made him more gentle and affectionate: “When he would drink, he was a loveable person. He would hug and kiss my children and me.”