CROWN POINT | Two East Chicago residents testified Thursday about giving Ralph Martinez a ride from Majestic Star Casino on March 28, 2013, during a third hearing to determine if the Alsip man charged with murder in the slaying of Griffith business owner Mary Austgen will be granted bail.
Ralph Perez Martinez, 58, filed the petition Feb. 21 in conjunction with his court-appointed attorney, Casey McCloskey.
Thursday’s hearing was the third held on Martinez’s petition in Magistrate Kathleen Sullivan’s courtroom. Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Mark Watson said Thursday that at least three more hearings will result in testimony from 10 additional witnesses.
A status hearing on the case is set for April 23 in the courtroom of Lake Criminal Court Judge Diane Boswell.
Austgen, 76, of St. John, was found shot to death March 29, 2013, in the parking garage of Majestic Star Casino in Gary.
According to court documents, Martinez abducted Austgen about 5:40 p.m. on March 28, 2013, from her family business at 801 E. Main St. in Griffith.
Jose Del Real and Maira Guifarro testified that Martinez, a man they knew as Rafael, phoned Del Real to pick him up at Majestic Star Casino that same day.
McCloskey questioned Del Real’s command of English, although the 36-year-old witness said he had been speaking English for the past 27 years.
Guifarro said the cellphone call from Martinez came after the couple had gone to bed and that she had encouraged her boyfriend to do the favor for the man who inspected the semitrucks they both drive.
Majestic Star Casino is about 10 minutes from the couple’s home they share with their young child, she said.
Although she didn’t want to accompany Del Real, Guifarro said she finally agreed, and the pair and their baby went in her car to the casino. Del Real, who was driving, received additional calls on his cellphone from Martinez and, per Guifarro’s instructions, picked up the older man at the casino entrance.
Both said Martinez was wearing jeans, a black jacket and carrying a black backpack. Del Real also said the defendant was wearing a hat.
Del Real drove to a nearby gas station to fill up for the drive to Martinez’s home in Alsip, the witnesses said. Surveillance camera footage from the gas station shows Del Real filling up the car and paying the cashier inside. No passengers in the car can be seen, he said when shown those photos.
He also testified that Martinez handed him $40 to pay for the gas and that the older man had a wad of cash.
Guifarro said Martinez told them he needed a ride home from Majestic Star because he had gone to the casino with a friend who left, and that he had won the money at the casino. She also said Martinez told them he needed to get home to pick up his wife at work.
She said that during the 40-minute drive to Alsip that Martinez “seemed a little bit nervous, but I didn’t know him well.”
Both witnesses said that 10 minutes after they dropped him off, Martinez called Del Real to instruct him not to tell about the casino visit.
Del Real testified that Martinez said he owed money to Del Real’s boss, which was why he didn’t want anyone to know about going to the casino.