A former minor league baseball player who used a bat engraved with his name to bludgeon to death his father, uncle and a bystander inside a Corona home should spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole, a jury recommended on Thursday, Nov. 19.
Brandon Willie Martin, 27, tilted his head back and clasped his hands behind it when the verdict was read in Riverside County Superior Court in Riverside. Defense attorney Christian R. Jensen patted co-counsel T. Edward Welbourn on the back.
The jury could have recommended the death penalty. Judge Bernard J. Schwartz will make the final decision when he sentences Martin on Jan. 29, 2021.
“This is a case we saw ending this way,” Welbourn said outside court. “We knew and believed so much in his mental illness that we were hoping we put out the correct information to let the jury make the choice that they did.”
Martin had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was released early from a 72-hour mental health hold only hours before he killed his wheelchair-bound father, 64-year-old Michael Martin of Corona; his uncle, 51-year-old Ricky Lee Andersen of Corona; and 62-year-old alarm installer Barry Swanson of Riverside on Sept. 17, 2015.
“I think this verdict is a testament to the humanity of this jury and to the humanity of this community,” Jensen said.
The attorney said jurors told him afterward that there wasn’t one specific piece of evidence that swayed them, other than they found the testimony of a defense psychiatrist “impactful.”
Juror Thomas Van Dorn, 68, of Moreno Valley, who once worked as a civilian jailer in Whittier, said he strongly believed from the outset of deliberations, which lasted a day and a half, that life without parole was appropriate.
“I feel it’s a little more punishment,” Van Dorn said. “He’s going to wake up every morning knowing what he did.”
Jeremy Swanson, one of Barry Swanson’s sons, sat in the gallery during Thursday’s hearing and afterward said he wanted Martin to suffer a long prison sentence instead of being put to death.
“He deserves to rot and die in prison,” Swanson said. “He is going to have to deal with the politics of prison.”
He added that he believes Martin is mentally ill but that family members exaggerated the severity in their testimony. He said jurors told him they agreed
The District Attorney’s Office said it would not comment until the sentence is final.
Martin was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder earlier this month. The jury also found true a special circumstance allegation of taking multiple lives in the same crime, and further convicted him of one count each of auto theft, evading arrest, obstructing a peace officer and injuring a police K-9.
Martin graduated from Santiago High in 2011 and was the 38th overall selection in that year’s major league draft by the Tampa Bay Rays. The shortstop received a $1 million bonus and, after drug and discipline troubles, was released on March 26, 2015.
At one time, he rented a mansion in Yorba Linda for $6,000 a month. Brea police were called to the home 19 times. Police records note loud parties, a brawl with baseball bats and “blood everywhere,” according to a trial brief.
Following his release from the Rays, Martin lived mostly at his parents’ home, continuing to abuse drugs. He had no job, he had spent all his money, and he was resentful of being supported by his parents, the trial brief said.
The family finally scheduled an intervention for Martin on Sept. 15, 2015, two days after he choked his mother, Melody, and held scissors to her neck. At that intervention, a cousin reported the assaults to Corona police, who took Martin to a county mental health facility for treatment.
Officials there decided that Martin was not a serious threat to others and gave him a bus pass as well as an admonition not to go to his parents’ home. He went there anyway, just as Barry Swanson was installing an alarm system the family ordered because they were afraid of Martin.
“He gave his life for a family he didn’t even know,” Jeremy Swanson said. “I am so proud of my dad. I am honored to be his son.”