More witnesses testify in Austgen homicide case

2014-04-16T21:30:00Z 2014-06-18T20:09:18Z More witnesses testify in Austgen homicide caseLu Ann Franklin Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
April 16, 2014 9:30 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | Video surveillance footage from Majestic Star Casino, an audiotape of a jailhouse phone call and the testimony of investigators played key roles in another hearing Wednesday to determine if the Alsip man charged with killing Griffith business owner Mary Austgen will be granted bail.

An attorney for Ralph Perez Martinez, 58, filed a petition for bond Feb. 21. Historically, those charged with murder in Lake County are held without bond in Lake County Jail, where Martinez is currently incarcerated.

Wednesday’s hearing was the fourth held on Martinez’s petition in Magistrate Kathleen Sullivan’s courtroom.

A status hearing on the case is set for April 23 before 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. March 28, 2013, from her family business at 801 E. Main St., Griffith.

On Wednesday, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Mark Watson called witnesses, including police officers who are members of the Northwest Indiana Major Crimes Task Force, to describe how information and evidence was obtained in the case.

The major crimes task force is a coalition of detectives and police officers from multiple jurisdictions in Lake and Porter counties who are called in to help investigate crimes such as homicide, robbery and kidnapping, said Munster police Officer Timothy Nosich, a member of the group since its inception in 2006.

Nosich testified the task force was called in by the Griffith Police Department on April 22, 2013.

According to court documents, security camera footage shows a man identified as Martinez wearing a Harley-Davidson hat enter the Austgen business office and exit with Mary Austgen.

Nosich testified he was assigned to conduct surveillance at Martinez’s Alsip home for several hours prior to the execution of a search warrant by Alsip police.

“Ralph Martinez was at the residence,” Nosich said. “The Alsip police broke the door down (to get inside when no one answered the door).”

In addition, Nosich said he interviewed Antonio Rodriguez, the man who said he drove Martinez from Alsip to the Austgen business complex in Griffith on March 28, 2013, and Maira Guifarro, the girlfriend of East Chicago resident Jose Del Real, who picked up Martinez at Majestic Star Casino on March 29, 2013.

Another witness from the company that provides phone service for Lake County Jail inmates testified about how the audiotape of a phone call made by Martinez to one of his daughters was obtained by Watson.

In the portion of the tape played in court, Martinez is heard reassuring one of his adult daughters that he didn’t blame his ex-wife, Catalina Noriega, of Alsip, for turning him in.

“I want you to help your mom. I don’t want you to think I’m against your mother. She did the right thing,” Martinez was heard saying. “Tell your mother to be careful.”

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