SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Two men will face murder, torture and rape charges in the death of a Santa Maria woman in a case that has attracted national attention because of the undocumented, illegal immigrant status of one of the accused.
64-year-old Marilyn Pharis died August 1 in the hospital while recovering from injuries she suffered after police say she was brutally attacked while sleeping inside her home on July 24.
Speaking at a press conference on the case at Santa Maria Police Department headquarters Friday afternoon, Police Chief Ralph Martin says Pharis fought back while she was sexually assaulted, strangled and repeatedly beaten in the head with a hammer. Watch the full press conference video below.
Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley says 29 year old Victor Aureliano Martinez Ramirez and 20-year-old Jose Villagomez are charged with first-degree murder with special circumstances of burglary, mayhem and rape during a felony murder.
Dudley says Martinez Ramirez faces a special circumstance of torture.
"These charges carry the possibility of the death penalty or life without possibility of parole", Dudley said at the Friday press conference.
Dudley says its too early in the prosecution of the case for a decision to be made on whether the death penalty will be pursued.
Chief Martin says Martinez Ramirez is an undocumented, illegal immigrant who's been arrested six times in 15 months including just before the alleged attack on Pharis.
"Two weeks before this murder Santa Maria Police officers arrested him for possession of meth (methamphetamine)", said SMPD Chief Ralph Martin at the Friday press conference, "you know what we had to do? We had to cite him out, that's the problem with this system, this is not just in Santa Maria, this is all over the state of California and all over the United States."
Martin expressed frustration at existing law that allowed Martinez Ramirez to remain out of custody and in the country despite his prior arrests and convictions.
"This is a national issue, I think it starts in Washington DC with this administration that we see and these policies, I think you can draw a direct line over to Sacramento with the policies I'm going to say with this Governor and the Legislature", Chief Martin said, "we've seen AB 109 passed, we've seen Prop 47 passed, I am not remiss to say that from Washington DC to Sacramento there's a blood trail leading to the bedroom of Marilyn Pharis."
Martin says his department does not have the authority to hold suspects in custody because of their illegal immigration status.
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department says Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, never provided a federal order to keep Martinez Ramirez in custody on an immigration hold as required by current law.
Both Martinez Ramirez and Villagomez, who is a legal resident, remain in county jail and are expected to appear in Santa Maria court on the charges against them next week.VIDEO: Santa Maria Police Department Full Press conference