Judge authorizes attempted murder trial in shooting over Spanish conquistador statue

Oct 13, 2023, 6:15 PM

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A judge on Friday ordered an attempted murder trial for a New Mexico man accused in the shooting of a Native American activist amid confrontations about aborted plans to reinstall a statue of a Spanish conquistador outside a government office.

State District Court Judge Jason Lidyard found sufficient evidence to support charges of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon against 23-year-old Ryan David Martinez in connection with the shooting that was recorded by bystanders with cell phones and by surveillance cameras.

Martinez was arrested on Sept. 28 after chaos erupted and a single shot was fired at an outdoor gathering in Española over canceled plans to install a bronze likeness of conquistador Juan de Oñate, who is both revered and reviled for his role in establishing early settlements along the Upper Rio Grande starting in 1598.

The shooting wounded Jacob Johns, of Spokane, Washington, a well-traveled activist for environmental causes and an advocate for Native American rights who is of Hopi and Akimel O’odham tribal descent.

Multiple videos show Martinez attempting to rush toward a shrine at the center of prayers and speeches in opposition to installing the statue on that spot — only for Martinez to be blocked physically by a group of men. Voices can be heard saying, “Let him go,” as Martinez retreats over a short wall, pulls a handgun from his waist and fires one shot.

Lidyard said Martinez should have known he was provoking a crowd with contrary views who opposed the statue’s installation as he repeatedly tried to push or rush past peaceful demonstrators. He highlighted that Martinez had arrived with a fully loaded, concealed handgun in a holster and had a second loaded handgun in his car with two additional loaded magazines of ammunition at hand.

“Mr. Martinez’s intentional acts of attempting to enter into an area of counter protesters, whether or not it was a public area, would lead a reasonable person in his same circumstances to know that it would cause provocation,” Lidyard said at a county courthouse in rural northern New Mexico. That he “would intentionally provoke them while knowing full well that he was carrying a concealed firearm is sufficient to find probable cause for attempted murder in the first degree.”

The ruling followed nearly five hours of testimony from law enforcement officers, including a sheriff’s deputy who says Martinez repeatedly directed an expetive at him and people around him without obvious provocation. Eyewitnesses testimony was also provided, including from a 23-year-old woman who said Martinez leveled the gun at her after wounding Johns.

Martinez, of Sandia Park, has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon. Defense attorney Nicole Moss said her client came to take pictures with his cell phone, never hid his identity and was shoved to the ground by several larger men.

“Fearing for his life because he was so outnumbered by all these men, he pulled his firearm that he possessed lawfully — he had a concealed carry permit — and he fired one shot at Mr. Johns in self-defense,” she said.

The judge also ordered that Martinez remain incarcerated while awaiting trail, citing a long list of safety concerns, some based on newly revealed evidence that Martinez appeared to be converting semi-automatic guns at home to automatic weapons and was building untraceable gun parts at home using a 3D printer. State police also interviewed a former neighbor of Martinez who told them he saw Martinez out at night in a residential neighborhood dressed in body armor with an assault-style rifle and handgun.

The judge said he also weighed in violent threats Martinez made against the U.S. Federal Reserve banking system on social media as early as 2018, noting Martinez the FBI warned him in 2020 to refrain from further threatening behavior.

Johns remains in fragile health at a hospital in Albuquerque, according to his mother LaVerne McGrath, who attended Friday’s hearing. She fought back tears during witness testimony and repeated viewings of videos of the shooting.

“I’m sad but I’m really honored for all of the support that’s been given to this community, to my son,” she said. “He’s got people from around the world joining hands.”

Five of Martinez’s relatives, including his father, attended the proceedings but declined to comment. They gathered in a circle to pray during one court recess.

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Judge authorizes attempted murder trial in shooting over Spanish conquistador statue