Snohomish County sheriff’s deputy Cody McCoy places a hand on the shoulder of the son of Holly Martinez as Paul Martinez is sentenced Monday to 26 years behind bars for the murder of his wife. The sentencing took place at the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Snohomish County sheriff’s deputy Cody McCoy places a hand on the shoulder of the son of Holly Martinez as Paul Martinez is sentenced Monday to 26 years behind bars for the murder of his wife. The sentencing took place at the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Murder of former principal sends man to prison for 26 years

Holly Martinez, 45, was gunned down by her husband, whom she was divorcing. Their kids were there.

MILL CREEK — The three teenage children of Holly Martinez asked to be in the courtroom when their father was sentenced to prison for killing their mother, a former principal.

“This happened while they were home, in their home,” deputy prosecutor Andrew Alsdorf said.

Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Linda Krese ordered Paul Martinez to serve 26 years behind bars Monday, in a courtroom packed with family, Everett educators and sheriff’s investigators. A deputy wrapped an arm around the youngest child, a boy, while prosecutors recounted how the father, 50, fired two shots that killed Holly Martinez in June.

Paul Martinez never said why he did it.

Holly Martinez

Holly Martinez

Six days before the murder, he had signed some of the final divorce papers with his wife. In his apartment, detectives found a letter he’d written but never sent, saying their relationship was at a crossroads.

He accused her of focusing too much on his shortcomings.

“While I appreciate what you have to say, the reality is that we are both bleeding to death, and that we are both responsible,” he wrote. “I think we are both at our end.”

Holly Martinez, 45, gave her youngest kids $40 to take their dad out to breakfast on Father’s Day in 2018. The next night, June 18, he showed up at his old house off 59th Drive SE, saying he needed his red hard hat — even though detectives later found two hard hats in the trunk of his Mitsubishi Lancer, according to charging papers. The eldest girl reluctantly let him inside. He hadn’t asked for permission to come over and the mother wasn’t home.

Paul Martinez grabbed the hard hat, but then said he wanted to stick around to see a used car Holly had bought. Once she returned from a Costco shopping trip, Paul Martinez gave a third excuse for being there. He needed to grab some belongings from the master bedroom, where his clothes were. His estranged wife let him upstairs. She waited 10 to 20 minutes, before saying something like, “What’s taking so long?”

She went upstairs. Paul Martinez had brought a Smith & Wesson pistol, which was a point of contention at the end of their 17-year marriage, because Holly Martinez did not want a gun in the house.

One child was taking a shower in an upstairs bathroom, with music blaring. The other kids heard loud voices and crashes in the bedroom. None of them heard a sound that was clearly gunfire.

Paul Martinez left the room sweating, breathing hard, like he’d been in a fight. At one point he went outside, and one of the children went upstairs to check on the mother. She’d been shot in the back.

The killer called 911. At first he would not say what happened. A dispatcher pried from him that he’d been in an “altercation.” He started climbing the stairs again, as the child returned to the top of the staircase — knowing the mother was dead.

“Where’s mom?” the child asked.

The father didn’t answer directly. He surrendered when deputies arrived.

Holly Martinez worked in the Everett School District for almost a decade. She was a reading specialist at Garfield Elementary, assistant principal at several schools and principal at Forest View Elementary.

In divorce papers, she wrote that her husband was diagnosed with severe depression, and that he had an unpredictable temper.

“Paul has never shared his mental health records with me, but Paul said that the psychiatrist wanted him to take medication,” she wrote.

In court Monday, a nephew, Conrad Martinez, said his uncle took care of him growing up. He said Paul Martinez didn’t have a mother in his life, and that mental illness runs in the family.

“I know one thing, he’s not a murderer,” the nephew said. “He’s a sick man. … My grandmother’s sick. My grandmother’s brother been sick. It’s just a vicious cycle. It’s disgusting.”

Judge Krese noted that if Paul Martinez suffered from a lack of stable parenting, then he created a more profound absence in the lives of his own children.

“He took their mother away forever, and essentially he deprived them of their father, as well, all in the same act,” Krese said. “And it’s very hard to understand a parent doing that.”

All three children wrote letters to the judge. All three were articulate and compassionate toward both their mother and father, Krese said. Only the boy, 13, suggested a specific length of prison time. According to the judge, he asked for 25 years, because by then he’d be grown up and able to deal with the idea of his father being free.

Paul Martinez read from a brief statement. He said he wanted the healing to begin for his daughters and his son.

“My heart is heavy-laden with anguish and profound sorrow, for my actions and their effect on the children,” he said.

Paul Martinez pleaded guilty last fall to second-degree murder while armed with a firearm, with a special finding that the crime “occurred within sight or sound of the victim’s and the defendant’s minor children.”

The aggravating circumstance gave Judge Krese wide latitude in the potential sentence.

Sheriff’s detective Kendra Conley told the judge the evidence suggested Holly Martinez was cowering behind a dresser when her estranged husband opened fire. Conley, who responded to the scene, is the daughter of a teacher. Hours after the shooting, she took a deep breath, walked into a room where the Martinez girls were still awake and tried to console them.

“Seeing their grieving faces changed my life,” Conley said. “ … But the only person those children needed in their pain was their mother.”

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; Twitter: @snocaleb.

Domestic violence help

If you or someone you know needs help relating to domestic violence, contact Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County’s 24-hour confidential hotline at 425-252-2873.

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