Written by Devon Boen
In Montana’s 15th Judicial District Court on Jan. 30, Dennis Martinez hesitated to accept a plea deal that required a guilty plea to a felony charge of child endangerment.
Martinez is quickly approaching his one-year anniversary of being arrested for felony operation of an unlawful clandestine laboratory and child endangerment. He and his co-defendant, Kristopher Lehto, were taken into custody by law enforcement in May of 2012 after police received an anonymous tip that the two men were possibly producing crystal methamphetamine together.
Court documents said Martinez admitted to driving Lehto to remote locations while Lehto cooked meth. The report also outlined the poor conditions of Martinez’s residence and stated items used to produce meth were found in the house during a police search.
Martinez acquired a few more charges in the beginning of August after he was released on bail. He was back in Roosevelt County jail within 24 hours on new charges of burglary, assault and another count of child endangerment.
It seemed as though a collective plea deal had been struck regarding the two separate incidents but, after some questioning by his attorney, it was clear Martinez wasn’t ready to admit guilt.
The deal would have been a non-binding agreement with Roosevelt County Attorney Jim Patch and required guilty pleas to felony charges of criminal possession of dangerous drugs and child endangerment and to a misdemeanor charge of assault.
Martinez had little to say over the past eight months during his court appearances but, on Jan. 30, he uncharacteristically addressed some of the allegations against him.
When accepting a plea deal, the judge has to ensure the defendant is admitting guilt willingly without the influence of outside sources. The defendant is also required to explain to the judge why they admit guilt and what they did that constitutes being guilty of the alleged crime. The defendant can do this in their own words, but often their legal counsel walks them through it with a series of questions.
Martinez opted for the latter. His attorney asked him if he had ever possessed or used crystal methamphetamine, to which he answered no. He also stated he would drive Lehto around, but not to make drugs. He said they were just socializing and no drugs were involved.
When asked why the police report said he had admitted to corroborating with Lehto to produce meth, Martinez said he was confused and was unsure how to act since it was the first time he had ever been arrested.
The charge that led to the most hesitation on Martinez’s part was the count of child endangerment. Martinez said he didn’t believe he put his children at risk to potential bodily harm or death. He stated his children weren’t living at his house when police conducted a search of his residence following his May arrest.
It was clear to both District Judge David Cybulski and Martinez’s attorney that Martinez would need further legal advice before he could accept any sort of plea deal. Cybulski said he couldn’t in good conscience accept a guilty plea from a person who was so reluctant.
Martinez’s lawyer and Cybulski agreed to reconvene in a month so Martinez would have time to discuss his options and understand the implications of admitting guilt and taking a plea agreement.