Suspect in Austgen murder seeking bail

2014-03-25T17:13:00Z 2014-06-18T20:09:16Z Suspect in Austgen murder seeking bailLu Ann Franklin Times Correspondent
March 25, 2014 5:13 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | The Alsip man charged with murder in the slaying of Griffith business owner Mary Austgen appeared in court Tuesday to determine if he will be granted bail.

Ralph Perez Martinez, 58, filed the petition Feb. 21 in conjunction with his court-appointed attorney, Casey McCloskey.

The hearing was the second held on Martinez’s petition in Magistrate Kathleen Sullivan’s courtroom. Another is scheduled for Thursday with a status hearing set for April 23 in the courtroom of Lake Criminal Court Judge Diane Boswell.

Austgen, 76, of St. John, was found shot to death in the parking garage of the Majestic Star Casino in Gary on March 29, 2013.

According to court documents, Martinez abducted Austgen from her family business at 801 E. Main St. in Griffith about 5:40 p.m. March 28, 2013.

Tuesday’s hearing included testimony from Griffith police Detective James Sibley, Martinez’s ex-wife and his three daughters.

Sibley was the lead detective for the investigation of Austgen’s murder. He testified about how images of the suspect, alleged to be Martinez, were captured on security camera footage and how still photos of those images were obtained.

Some of the still photos were distributed to the media and other investigators, Sibley said.

Only Sullivan saw all the images introduced in court for this hearing including those of Austgen lying on the building stairs with the suspect aiming a gun at her.

The images released to the media became the focus of witness statements from Martinez’s ex-wife, Catalina Noriega, of Alsip, and their three daughters, who live in Champaign, Ill.

Noriega testified that although the couple divorced in 1995, Martinez moved back into her Alsip home in 2011. She said they were watching a Spanish TV station in April 2013 when a telecast about a suspect being sought in Austgen’s murder was shown.

The photos of the suspect looked like Martinez, Noriega said. She knew the name Austgen from a visit to a storage area Martinez rented at the Austgen business on Main Street in Griffith.

A photo of the diamond ring Austgen wore on her little finger further convinced Noriega that her ex-husband was involved in the murder. That ring, Noriega said, had been on her dresser for about two weeks and she put it in her jewelry box. It was missing when she checked after seeing the TV program.

At Martinez’s suggestion, she said, they switched to the ABC news broadcast for the English version.

The same photos and information were telecast on that program as well as information about a $10,000 reward being offered for the arrest and conviction of Austgen’s killer.

Noriega testified that Martinez immediately said, “Is that all I’m worth?”

The woman said she waited until Martinez was asleep to call their three adult daughters. The daughters told their mother to get out of the house immediately and go to the Alsip police.

Daughter Laurie Pettigrew testified that she viewed the photos from the TV program on the Internet during her mother’s call and also recognized her father’s facial features.

Pettigrew said the sisters drove to Alsip to be with their mother and went with her to the Griffith Police Department as the Alsip police recommended.

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