Ottawa home invasion trial on hold while evidence is challenged

Judge set to make ruling June 21

La Salle County Courthouse

Fernando Martinez won’t stand trial Monday on a home invasion charge. The Ottawa man instead is waiting for a key ruling on whether prosecutors can admit evidence against him.

Martinez, 21, of Ottawa faces up to 50 years if convicted of home invasion, a Class X felony carrying six to 30 years in prison but with a firearm enhancement because shots were fired during the November break-in, prosecutors said.

Martinez was set for trial May 20, but that’s on hold while a judge ponders whether surveillance footage and evidence collected at Morris Hospital is admissible. Chief Judge H. Chris Ryan Jr. will make a ruling June 21.

On Wednesday, Martinez and his lawyer, La Salle County Assistant Public Defender Heidi Nelson, appeared in La Salle County Circuit court and said Martinez’s privacy rights were violated and that neither the video nor Martinez’s confiscated phone and clothes should be admitted.

According to Wednesday testimony, Martinez was recorded on home surveillance, with audio, discussing an incident that seemingly matches the November home invasion. Nelson said Martinez had no idea that he was being recorded, which would make the recording inadmissible under eavesdropping laws.

As for the phone and clothing, Nelson said police needed a warrant before collecting his clothes at Morris Hospital, where Martinez was treated for a gunshot wound. According to open-court statements, a participant in the November home invasion arrived armed and might have struck an intruder.

Ottawa police Detective Matthew Najdanovich testified that he collected the phone while Martinez appeared to be dozing, and Martinez was “confrontational and noncompliant” once roused. Martinez, he said, then became “agitated” and had to be calmed by hospital staff.

“Do you think he was ‘agitated’ because you took his pants, shoes and phone without a warrant?” Nelson said.

“I can’t speak to the cause of his agitation,” Najdanovich said.

In response, prosecutor Jeremiah Adams called the homeowner of the home where Martinez was reportedly recorded. The homeowner testified that she not only knew of but also approved of the installation of her neighbor’s security cameras, even asking to have one trained on her porch after she had been spooked by a nearby shooting. All occupants and visitors were told that camera was hot.

The judge scheduled a June ruling, giving him time to review the disputed video footage as well as body camera footage from an officer who responded to Morris Hospital. Ryan specifically noted that he wanted to assess how loudly Martinez spoke and whether he made any effort to lower his voice and speak discreetly.

As for the collection of the evidence at the hospital, police and criminal lawyers interviewed for this story said the law is clear: Warrants typically are not needed in a hospital’s emergency department.

In this case, Martinez had been moved to an adjoining area with see-through glass doors and with medical professionals darting in and out, although a privacy curtain was partially drawn. Ryan will have to consider whether Martinez was by that time still in an emergency setting or an inpatient room, where he was afforded more privacy.

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