The defense team is trying to humanize Martinez in an attempt to convince the jury to sentence him to natural life and avoid the death penalty.
Their first witness during the sentencing phase, which began Wednesday, was Martinez’s fifth-grade teacher.
Maria Figueroa taught Martinez close to 20 years ago at a Tucson elementary school. She testified that even though she's taught hundreds of kids over the years, she remembers Martinez because he was one of two students who participated in a reading program she designed as part of her master’s degree. She said Martinez did not have disciplinary problems, was a good student, and improved his reading skills significantly during his fifth-grade year.
"He became intrinsically motivated," she said. "At the beginning, I would reward them with stickers and paper clips. Later on, I didn't have to do that anymore. He was intrinsically motivated to do his work and he genuinely wanted to succeed,"
The prosecution pointed out that Figueroa never had contact with Martinez after that year.
Jurors also are expected to hear other mitigating factors in an attempt to spare Martinez’s life, including records about his good behavior in prison so far and his troubled upbringing.
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