Judge ordered DNA testing to exonerate or confirm complicity of alleged shooter
Victim’s family considers legal options for deputy’s “willful neglect of duty”
REPORTER’S NOTE: The names of suspects are generally not published until there is an arrest or indictment. However, given the unique circumstances in the Molina case and the fact Hernandez is identified in Sheriff’s Office documents as “a suspect in a 2015 homicide,” he and another suspect are named in this article.
BISBEE- Documents obtained last month from the Bisbee Justice Court provide more details about how detectives are trying to identify those involved in the March 28, 2015 murder of Michael Molina. No one has been arrested in the case, despite cash rewards and extensive media coverage the past two years.
The recently released documents include an affidavit filed by lead detective John Monroe of the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office. Monroe’s affidavit reveals that investigators waited nearly one year for preliminary fingerprint and DNA test results from the Arizona Dept. of Public Safety crime lab.
According to the affidavit, Molina was shot in the chest inside his Bisbee house with his own gun, which was left at the scene by the shooter. The crime lab recovered four latent prints from the murder weapon. Only one of the four prints matched Molina, age 54. In addition, a DNA mixture from at least four sources was detected on the gun. One source was identified being from Molina, two were inconclusive, and one source belonged to another man.
Monroe filed the affidavit in May 2016 when he asked judge Adam Ambrose for a court order to obtain “evidence of physical characteristics” in the form of fingerprints, palm prints, and a saliva sample from Martin Lewis Hernandez. The evidence would allow “for comparison against trace evidence” that would either “exonerate Martin or show his complicity in the murder” of Molina.
The detective informed judge Ambrose that Hernandez became a person of interest shortly after Molina’s murder based on an anonymous tip to 88-CRIME. The tipster identified Hernandez as having a distinctive tattoo on his forehead that reads “Simple Minded.”
Then only days before asking for the court order, detective Monroe and Bisbee Police detective Carlos Moreno interviewed Hernandez’s former girlfriend. The woman, who is not a suspect in the case, said Hernandez “broke down” in March 2016 and told her several details about the shooting. The woman also claims Hernandez confessed to shooting Molina.
deputy’s “neglect of duty” in 2014 left Hernandez free
Authorities were acquainted with Hernandez before he was identified as a murder suspect. As reported May 21 by the Cochise County Record, sheriff’s deputy Steven Ray arrested Hernandez in January 2014 for carrying a firearm that Hernandez was prohibited from possessing. If found guilty, Hernandez faced a presumptive sentence of 2.5 years in prison.
However, the weapons charge was dropped in 2014 for what a sheriff’s office report described as deputy Ray’s “willful neglect of duty” for failing to test the gun as requested by the Cochise County Attorney’s Office. Deputy Ray resigned his position in January 2017, weeks before a months-long internal investigation of his performance was concluded. By then detectives had already eyed Hernandez as Molina’s killer.
Freddy Molina, Michael’s younger brother, has not shied away from complaining publicly about the slow pace of CCSO’s investigation. He said recently that the family learned of Ray’s mishandling of the 2014 Hernandez arrest by reading the Cochise County Record article.
The family, says Freddy Molina, is considering its legal options related to Ray’s misconduct, noting that “if CCSO were doing their job, my brother would be alive today.”
murder suspects identified as part of Bisbee area burglary crew
Authorities previously disclosed that Molina was likely killed after entering his “ransacked” house in Bisbee’s Saginaw area while thieves were inside. Supporting the burglary theory is that Molina’s television and other valuable items were “stacked” by the back door when police arrived.
Monroe’s affidavit described Hernandez as “a member of a burglary crew” that included Taran Fox, a neighborhood resident named in other court documents as a suspect in the murder. Fox purportedly was inside the house when Molina came home. The detective obtained a court order shortly after the murder to collect physical evidence from Fox, who was reportedly seen walking in the neighborhood when Molina was shot.
At the time of Molina’s murder, Fox was under order by judge Ambrose to remain law-abiding after she was convicted of disorderly conduct and criminal damage. Then in late 2015 she was placed on supervised probation for three years as part of a plea deal in a drug case, but an arrest in February triggered revocation of her probation. Judge Wallace Hoggatt sentenced Fox in March to one year in prison for the old charge and one year on a new drug charge. She is expected to be released from prison in February 2018.
Judge Ambrose also approved a subpoena for Fox’s cell phone records and those of a woman who provided Fox’s alibi for the time of the murder. That woman is described in detective Monroe’s affidavit as the alleged getaway driver for the burglary. She is currently on probation in two separate cases, one involving criminal impersonation for assuming a false identity and the other for a drug paraphernalia charge.
Meanwhile, in mid-2016 another deputy tested the gun from Hernandez’s 2014 arrest. Hernandez was indicted in August with weapons misconduct in that case and faces a similar charge for 2016 incident during which he was arrested on federal drug charges.
Hernandez was sentenced in February to 42 months in federal prison for conspiracy to possess marijuana with intent to distribute. He is currently in custody at the Cochise County jail – serving his federal sentence – while the weapons charges move forward. Monroe has notified the court that the collection of evidence from Hernandez and Fox took place, but the results have not been disclosed in public court documents.
Contact reporter Terri Jo Neff at 520-508-3660 or firstname.lastname@example.org