Murder case resurrected by DNA profile goes to trial

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Courtesy Photo.

On June 18, a judge ordered a man to stand trial for the cold case homicide of Scott Martinez, who was stabbed 30 times with a sword in his La Mesa home in 2006.

A full day of testimony was heard in the preliminary hearing of Zachary Aaron Bunney, 39. Bunny was a La Mesa resident and lived two miles away from Martinez, 46, who, on June 17, 2006, was attacked.

Bunney had dated the babysitter for Martinez and apparently was jealous of him, according to testimony.

Deputy District Attorney Brian Erickson described Bunney as “a person who had a personal vendetta” and who “most likely cut his hand in the process” during the violent murder.

The attacker bled in Martinez’s bathroom sink and on discarded blood on toilet tissue that was found there, according to La Mesa Police Detective Ryan Gremillion. Additionally, the killer fled through a bedroom window, smearing more blood there and outside.

The DNA profile from that blood was given to Parabon Nanolabs who used genetic genealogy to find a match with Bunney, as two of his relatives had used some type of genetic genealogy company, said Gremillion.

Gremillion said officers were surprised to get Bunney’s name as his name had never come up in the investigation. They found that Bunney had filed a restraining order against his former girlfriend, Ahderah Roth, who was Martinez’s babysitter.

Roth testified Bunney never accompanied her to Martinez’s apartment and they only dated a year. Roth said she never knew that Bunney was jealous of Martinez.

Roth denied any involvement in the murder and said there was no need for Bunney to be jealous of Martinez as she had no relationship to him other than to babysit his daughter.

Gremillion said DNA tests were completed for nine-10 other people and all were eliminated from the possibility of having DNA at the crime scene. Bunney’s DNA was not found on the actual 3-foot sword that was “heavily bent in the middle” and found near Martinez, he said.

Gremillion told El Cajon Superior Court Judge Evan Kirvin he located Bunney in Hillsboro, Oregon, and talked to him Jan. 9 after Bunney was arrested. He said Bunney denied knowing Martinez.

Bunney was surprised by the question about Martinez and became “very visibly nervous,” said the detective. Bunney declined to give a DNA sample when asked and then was presented with a DNA search warrant issued by a judge.

Swabs were taken inside Bunney’s mouth and sent to a laboratory which later confirmed Bunney’s link to the DNA found in Martinez’s bathroom, said Gremillion.

Erickson argued the slaying was not an accident or done in self-defense, considering the 30 stab wounds and “three through and through (wounds) to the victim.”

Bunney’s attorney, Russell Babcock, argued just because his blood was found in the apartment “doesn’t mean he’s the killer.”

Babcock said there was no way to determine the age of the blood recovered and there is “no idea what the circumstances are” in the homicide.

“It’s pure speculation,” said Babcock, who argued that Bunney not stand trial due to “a lack of evidence.”

Kirvin found there was probable cause to hold Bunney for a murder trial, which he set for Jan. 21, 2020. Bunney waived his right to have a speedy trial and pleaded not guilty.

Bunney remains in jail on $3 million bail. Martinez’s daughter attended the hearing.

Two other witnesses, who discovered Martinez had been killed, also testified. A woman who had a key to his apartment and her friend testified they found Martinez dead, but did not immediately report it.

The woman was in shock but reported it to police the next day. The man with her said he didn’t like police and didn’t speak to police about it until years later, he said.