BY BRUNO MATARAZZO JR.
WATERBURY — A judge is considering whether to shorten the prison sentence of a 31-year-old man convicted of manslaughter in 2011 for the death of his friend.
Justin Martinez, formerly of Naugatuck, is serving a 16-year term for the November 2010 death of Gary Dias in Naugatuck.
Martinez has been in custody since his arrest and served 12 years in prison.
On the day Dias was killed, he and Martinez were arguing 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.
Judges must determine whether good cause exists to modify an inmate’s sentence.
Martinez’s attorney, Alex Taubes, said good cause exists due to his client’s “remarkable transformation” through education, rehabilitation and change.
“The person who sits before this court today is so different from the young man who stood before this court for sentencing in his original case,” Taubes told Judge Brian Preleski during a recent hearing in Waterbury Superior Court.
Taubes cited Martinez’s participation in 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 while in custody.
Martinez said his time in custody has been difficult, but the America’s VetDogs program has given him a purpose behind bars. 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,” he said. “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.”
Martinez said his sister has forgiven him and she spoke in support of the sentence modification.
“We all forgive him,” said Martinez’s sister, Rochelle. “I love him with all of my heart and I hope you can see the change he has made all the years that he has been in jail. We’re just ready for him to come home.”
No one spoke out against Martinez’s request.
The victim’s mother has died and the father could not be reached.