KINGMAN — A Superior Court judge reduced Tuesday a first-degree murder conviction for a Golden Valley man charged with the October 2012 shotgun murder of his neighbor.
On Oct. 18, 2012, Phillip Martin shot Steven Jeffrey Schwartz, 55, with a shotgun from about 45 feet away through a front window from inside his trailer. An unarmed Schwartz had walked up Martin’s driveway with his hands to his side.
Martin’s attorneys argued that the shooting was self-defense since Martin, now 68, thought the victim was trespassing, was armed and he was going to be “ripped off” by Schwartz.
The jury in Martin’s first trial was unable to agree on the first-degree murder charge and found him guilty of second-degree murder. He was sentenced in November 2013 to 16 years in prison. The Arizona Court of Appeals overturned Martin’s conviction in December 2014.
The judge in the second trial allowed the prosecutor to retry Martin for first-degree murder. Martin’s attorney objected, arguing that would violate statutes prohibiting double jeopardy. The judge ruled that Martin was not acquitted of the first-degree murder charge but that the jury was deadlocked or was a hung jury.
Martin was convicted of first-degree murder at his second trial in August 2016. He was then sentenced to natural life in prison.
The appellate court upheld Martin’s conviction and prison sentence in 2019 but the Arizona Supreme Court vacated his sentence in August 2019. The Supreme Court ruled that trying Martin a second time for first-degree murder “violated his constitutional right to be free from double jeopardy.”
Martin’s case went before the U.S. Supreme Court at a conference in May but the court declined to review his case.
The Arizona Supreme Court remanded Martin’s case back to Mohave County to decide whether to reduce the conviction for first-degree murder to second-degree murder or set a new trial if the defendant can show prejudice.
Superior Court Judge Billy Sipe Jr. reduced the first-degree murder conviction to second-degree murder, ruling that the defendant “failed to establish a reliable inference of prejudice.” The judge ruled that Martin would clearly have been convicted of second-degree murder.
Sipe set Martin’s sentencing for Oct. 15. The judge is expected to sentence the defendant to 16 years in prison.