Harris County preacher, former Houston school administrator, convicted of child sex abuse

A jury on Wednesday sentenced a Harris County preacher to at least 15 years in prison for sexually abusing a young neighbor whose relative he befriended during Bible study.

Prior to sentencing, Charles Martinez had faced decades of allegations at Houston schools and at his Brazoria County ranch, including accusations that he groomed young girls over the phone, sexually abused children and later raped a teenager. This last complaint ended with the guilty verdict and sentence.

Prosecutors called Martinez a self-proclaimed evangelist who for decades preyed on children.

“He was not employed by any church,” prosecutor Andrew Figliuzzi said. “Throughout this trial we have shown him to be the wolf in sheep’s clothing that the book he preaches from warns us of.”

The jury convicted the 60-year-old on Tuesday of two counts of child molestation. The assaults began in 2012 and continued until at least 2015, when the girl’s father reported the abuse to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.

Judge Hazel B. Jones will decide on Thursday whether Martinez will serve 30 years — 15 years on each count consecutively — or serve the sentences concurrently.

The victim told authorities that she often helped Martinez take care of his animals and showered her with gifts, a common practice among abusers that experts call grooming. When the sexual abuse began, he was not wearing a condom – telling the child that “he was ‘too old’ for her to get pregnant”, according to court documents. At the time, Martinez was 51 and the kid was 14.

The first sexual assault occurred in a trailer on his ranch and the attacks continued at Martinez’s home, records show.

“The defendant first lured her to his ranch trailer to introduce her to his horses,” according to court documents.

During the girl’s counseling session after the initial outcry, she revealed that years before her assaults, Martinez had sexually abused her adult sister who is intellectually disabled, according to court documents.. The older sister’s allegation led to a separate charge of aggravated sexual assault against a disabled person.

Investigators learned that Martinez spotted the older sister riding a bike in their neighborhood and invited her to his home. He then raped her in a bedroom. He raped the child multiple times, according to court records. The older sister may have been around 14 at the time.

The charge related to the older sister should be thrown out, but the evidence in this case was used in the trial of the younger sister.

“We have now saved this victim from having to testify in difficult circumstances,” Figliuzzi said.

Prior to sentencing, Martinez’s mother, Elvira Martinez, paced outside the courtroom. Sentencing was delayed for more than an hour while the court waited for Martinez’s suit to be delivered to the courthouse.

During the sentencing trial, the preacher’s mother testified that her son often looked after her. She was the only witness to testify.

“He reaches out his arm so I can hold it – takes me to the grocery store,” the elderly woman said.

The judge said Thursday she would consider the prosecution’s request to “cumulatively” serve Martinez’s sentences, or serve them consecutively.

Defense attorney Stanley Schneider said he did not think consecutive sentences would be appropriate and that the judge should not consider testimony from other victims in making his decision. Their charges were not before the jury, he explained.

Martinez posted bond after his arrest in April 2015, but returned to jail multiple times for bail violations related to missing a curfew and dead batteries in his ankle monitor.

Martinez’s arrest in 2015 followed by years of youth allegations in Houston and Brazoria County. A Brazoria County grand jury in 2001 indicted him following allegations that he abused children at his Brazosport ranch, which he billed as a denominational haven – on 2 acres – for young people at risk.

A jury found Martinez guilty of these charges and he was sentenced to prison. The verdict, however, was overturned on appeal and he pleaded guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge, prosecutors said. The victims, a boy and a girl, were 13 years old at the time of the violence.

Schneider encouraged the jury to consider that Martinez had never been convicted of a crime prior to their decision.

Victims of the Brazoria County case and others testified at the Harris County trial that Martinez sexually assaulted them in the 1990s and 2000s.

Martinez was previously employed as an assistant principal at Edison Middle School in the East End of Houston. He resigned from that post in July 2000 – after years of employment with HISD – after the school opened an internal investigation into allegations that he had sexually harassed several female students. Court records indicate that Martinez was suspended in May 2000 following allegations of “inappropriate use of district time and resources, unprofessional behavior and attempting to influence a witness.”

Documents show Martinez used his position to “promote and facilitate the use of ‘Mustang Christian Ranch'” – ​​the Brazosport Ranch – for Edison students during school hours. In 1994, while teaching at Shearn Elementary School, he was accused of sexually coercing female students, according to HISD memos shared in court records.

Prosecutors in this month’s trial told the jury that Martinez had sexually abused children since the 1990s and that there were likely other victims who never came to the attention of authorities. The preacher has often traveled to Haiti and the Philippines for mission trips, and prosecutors speculated that he may have victimized people overseas.

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Martha K. Merrill