Former Tampa Bay Ray Star Avoids Death Penalty, Gets Life in California Prison

Former Tampa Bay Ray Star Avoids Death Penalty, Gets Life in California Prison

The death penalty is in the news and on many Californians’ minds these days as former Tampa Bay Rays prospect and Santiago High School baseball star Brandon Willie Martin was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole on Friday, January 29th. 

Martin was the 38th player chosen in the 2011 MLB draft and was awarded a $1 million signing bonus by the Rays. Unfortunately, Martin’s mental health derailed his career before it even took off.

Three Counts of Murder

In 2015, after being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, Martin was released from a mental health facility and headed to his father’s home. When he got there, Martin took a baseball bat and bludgeoned his wheelchair-bound father, uncle, and an ADT employee in the head to death. 

Tragically, Barry Swanson, the ADT employee, was at the home installing a security system because Martin’s father feared for his life and that his son might attack him.

Life Without Parole

The demand for Martin to receive the death penalty was voiced by many as the case progressed and was sought vigorously by the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office. Even with the jury’s recommendation that Martin receive life without parole, judge Bernard Schwartz could have opted to send Martin to death row. However, the Riverside County Superior Court judge decided to approve the jury’s sentencing recommendation. The D.A.’s office has also accepted the ruling.

While the murders were gruesome, it may be because of Martin’s mental health struggles that both judge and jury decided to sentence him to life without parole rather than the death penalty. Regardless of the reasoning behind the sentencing, the former baseball star’s case serves as another chapter in the Golden State’s ongoing capital punishment debate.

Strong Reaction from Families of Victims

After the sentence was read, neither Martin nor his lawyers made any comment nor showed any reaction to the news. The families of Martin’s victims, however, voiced their hatred for the man who caused so much pain in their lives. Family members of Ricky Anderson, Martin’s uncle, and Barry Swanson, the ADT employee Martin killed, took turns reading letters they had written against Martin and his actions.

Some of the family members spoke of the subsequent pain and family feuds the murders have sparked, while others noted the psychological conditions they have endured. While the pain in the room was felt by all, for his part, Martin showed no reaction to harsh words spoken against him.

Given that the average length of time on death row is around 20 years in California, it would have been a long time before Martin would have been executed even if he had received the death penalty. While the ruling might not have been what every member of the families of the victims was hoping for, only time will tell if life without parole will give them the sense of justice they had hoped for by seeking the death penalty.    

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