Conviction upheld for young killer who burned man’s body then shopped with his cash

A state appeals court panel has upheld a young man’s conviction for his role in the murder of a Long Beach man whose body was found inside an SUV that had been set on fire in Rancho Palos Verdes nearly six years ago.

Jose Angel Martinez of Compton was convicted in October 2017 of one count each of first-degree murder and arson in the death of Christopher Waters, 42. At trial, prosecutors told jurors that Martinez and his friend, who were both seniors at Poly High School, killed Waters for money and then immediately went shopping at the Lakewood mall after setting his body ablaze, according to the Press-Telegram.

Waters’ body was found in the flaming SUV left on a private basketball court near Miraleste Drive and First Street on the afternoon of April 23, 2013.

His feet had been bound and a cord was wrapped around his neck.

Martinez, who was 18 at the time of the crime, was charged along with a 17-year-old boy whose case was eventually transferred to a juvenile court. The status of that case is not clear. Juvenile proceedings are private.

Martinez initially denied having anything to do with Waters’ death. When investigators told Martinez they knew he and his friend had been picked up by a taxi in San Pedro and dropped off at a Lakewood mall, Martinez said that he was with his friend—who owed Waters some money but didn’t have the money to pay him—and that the two had beaten up Waters and that his friend had put an extension cord around Waters’ neck, according to a 35-page opinion released Thursday.

At his trial, Martinez denied involvement in the attack and said he had only helped his friend to cover it up afterward, the justices noted. The defendant claimed that he originally lied to the police because he panicked.

Martinez was sentenced in November 2017 to 28 years to life in state prison.

Breaking News Editor Jeremiah Dobruck contributed to this report.

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