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Deaf and mute murder suspect prepares for defense

August 28, 2007

 By the Associated PressWILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) — A judge on Monday ordered a deaf and mute illegal immigrant charged with raping and killing a teenager transferred from a hospital where he has been learning sign language for two years to a jail so he can prepare his defense.

Oswaldo Martinez, 36, of El Salvador, was charged in the January 2005 slaying of 16-year-old Brittany Binger. He was found incompetent to stand trial in September 2005 because of his language deficiencies and inability to communicate with his attorneys; when he was arrested, Martinez had no communication skills except for a few primitive hand signals.

Martinez’ case is reviewed every six months, and he was found incompetent each of the three times he came before the court. His case is up for review again in November.

Martinez was ordered to undergo sign language therapy at Western State Hospital in Staunton in an effort to allow him to understand the charges against him and assist in his defense. Part of his treatment involved watching the television show “Law and Order,” which is interpreted through sign language.

On Monday, Circuit Judge Samuel Powell ordered Martinez transferred to Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail so that he can have more contact with his attorneys, Timothy Clancy and Edward Webb. Powell also appointed a sign-language interpreter to work with Martinez and his attorneys.

“Western State was tasked with teaching him sign language — they have done that,” Williamsburg-James City County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nate Green said. “They have given him communication skills. Anybody that knows sign language can communicate with Mr. Martinez.”

Martinez is charged with rape, murder, sodomy and robbery in connection with Binger’s death. Investigators believe the teen was jumped from behind near the entrance to a mobile home park on Jan. 2, 2005, then raped and killed.

Binger’s body was found near an abandoned shed where Martinez had lived. Martinez’ DNA was found under the teenager’s fingernails, police have said.

If convicted, Martinez could face the death penalty.