UTAH STATE PRISON — Nathan K. Martinez said he is "baffled" but also "unbelievably grateful" for his father's support.
In 1994, when Martinez was 17, he shot and killed his stepmother, Lauren Martinez, and 10-year-old half sister, Alexis Martinez, while they were still in their beds. He was arrested three days later in Nebraska and charged with two counts of capital murder.
At the time of the crime, several people who knew Martinez referenced the movie "Natural Born Killers," noting that he had seen the film several times and it may have influenced him.
Martinez, from Bluffdale, pleaded guilty to the crimes and was spared a possible death penalty in exchange. He was sentenced to two concurrent terms of life in prison with the possibility of parole.
He first went before the Board of Pardons and Parole in 2000 and was denied parole. On Dec. 5, Martinez, now 40, went before board member Clark Harms to once again seek his release from prison.
When asked to revisit the crime, Martinez was in tears as he recounted that he was planning to run away that night and went into his stepmother's room to steal cash and her credit cards. While he was going through her purse, she woke up.
"I raised the gun up, I pulled the trigger and I shot her. I could have just left, I could have just ran, I could have done a million different things,” Martinez said in an audio recording of the hearing.
Next, he shot and killed his half sister as she slept.
"I wish I would have just left, you know? Would’ve just run out and kept going,” he said in tears. "Could have done so many things differently."
Martinez was not intoxicated when he committed the crimes. He said he had had issues with his stepmother in the past, but had never made a plan to kill her.
"I just made the most horrible decision a human being could make," he said. "I never wanted to do that that night."
Martinez described himself as an "ignorant, stupid teenager that was acting rebellious” back then. But he said that's not who he is today.
"I don’t want to make it sound oversimplified, but I’ve matured, I’ve grown, I’ve become an adult that rationalizes situations now,” he told Harms. "I’m just a completely different person, I guess … on so many levels I’m a better person than that kid was."
Martinez arrived at the Utah State Prison when he was 19. But rather than get involved with gangs and drugs, he said he made the decision to work and advance his education.
Harms noted that in the past 23 years, Martinez has not had a single disciplinary violation while in prison and his drug tests have all been clean.
Ben Martinez, Nathan's father and Lauren's husband, also addressed Harms and spoke "on behalf of the victims." He said after the murders, he went through therapy himself. He also has visited his son at the prison over the years and they've had "a lot of serious talks."
Martinez believes it's time for his son to be released from prison.
"The past is the past. There’s nothing you can do about it. You would never know this is the same individual that caused those problems. In visiting him, I’ve noticed a big change, mainly in his maturity,” he said. "You never would believe this is the same person that caused those problems all those years ago. You can’t change what happened. But you can be a better man in the future."
Martinez said Lauren Martinez's father has also visited Nathan several times while in prison and forgives him.
But not everyone has been so forgiving. Nathan Martinez said relations with his two brothers are still strained, particularly with one of them. Ben Martinez said he knows it would be hard for his son to readjust to the outside world if he is released, but believes it can happen.
"Starting a life at your age is going to be very, very hard. But we’re here to support him,” he said.
Martinez also had a message for critics who don't think he should be so forgiving of his son.
"People do not understand. I don’t care who you are, who you think you are, what you’ve read about — you don’t understand what it’s like until you go through it, God forbid they ever do," he said.5 comments on this story
Nathan Martinez said he has already contacted companies outside of the prison to try and arrange employment if he is granted parole.
"Yeah, I did a horrible thing. But I’m not a horrible person,” he said. "Like my dad said, I've got to move forward."
Harms admitted that he had no idea how the five member board would vote. Under current sentencing guidelines that did not exist when Martinez committed his crime, the state would recommend he stay in prison another four years before parole was considered. Harms said he expects a final decision will be made in several weeks.