BY BRUNO MATARAZZO JR.

REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

WATERBURY — A former Naugatuck man had his 16-year prison sentence for manslaughter reduced by 18 months last week after applying for a sentence modification.

CONTRIBUTED Justin Martinez interacts with one of the dogs he has helped to train through the America’s VetDogs program in which inmates raise and train service dogs that later are matched with disabled veterans and first responders. Martinez received a sentence modification, cutting 18 months off the 16-year sentence he received in 2011.

Waterbury Superior Court Judge Brian Preleski said good cause was found for Justin Martinez, who had requested a three-year reduction. The new sentence will allow the 31-year-old Naugatuck native to apply for parole earlier than expected. The judge said Martinez is a good candidate for parole, and supervision by a parole officer would be helpful in his transition from prison to the community.

“Having reviewed everything that was submitted, the court does find good cause for sentence modification to be granted in consideration of Mr. Martinez’s efforts at rehabilitation while within the Department of Correction,” Preleski said.

Martinez’s lawyer, Alex Taubes, said after the hearing he was pleased with the judge’s decision.

“His decision was so thorough and deliberate,” Taubes said. “Clearly he put so much time and effort into crafting his decision, and we’re very grateful for the mercy he has shown Justin Martinez.”

Taubes estimated Martinez can go before the parole board in about six months.

Preleski called Martinez’s efforts at rehabilitation “substantial.”

At his court hearing last month, Martinez spoke about his involvement with the America’s VetDogs program, which raises and trains service dogs for disabled veterans and first responders. The program only accepts inmates who have exceptional records in custody.

Martinez said his prison time has been difficult, but the VetDogs program has given him a purpose. He told the judge he wants to work with animals when he is released. He also wants to be able to help his family.

“Every day, I have to live with what happened,” Martinez told the judge at his hearing last month. “Every day, I’m the reason why my nephew has to grow up without a father, and the hardest thing of me being incarcerated all these years was finding a way to forgive myself. And it was very hard. This is something I have to live with for the rest of my life.”

The judge also noted Martinez had no criminal record before his 2010 arrest.

Martinez killed his friend, Gary Dias, in 2010 following an argument about Dias’ treatment of Martinez’s sister, who was dating Dias and had a child with him. Dias punched Martinez, who then stabbed Dias with a folding knife. Dias died from the stab wound.

Martinez initially was charged with murder, but later it was reduced to manslaughter.

Typically, sentence-modification hearings are allowed only for inmates who were found guilty by a jury. Martinez took a plea deal, but the hearing was allowed to go on with permission from the Waterbury State’s Attorney’s office. The state took no position on the modification request.

Martinez said his sister has forgiven him and she spoke in support of the sentence modification last month.