Jurors last week convicted a 22-year-old man of killing a Long Beach artist and then lighting his body on fire in Rancho Palos Verdes in what prosecutors said was an attempt to cover up the crime.
They found Jose Angel Martinez guilty of first-degree murder and arson on Friday, Oct. 6, in the death of Christopher Waters, who was severely beaten before being strangled with an electrical cord in the Long Beach home of Martinez’s friend.
Prosecutors said Martinez and Adrian Berumen, a classmate of his at Long Beach Poly High School, plotted to rob and kill Waters.
Martinez was 18 at the time of the attack, and Berumen was 17.
Berumen was originally charged as an adult, but his case has been sent to juvenile court since the passage of Proposition 57, which mandated judges, not prosecutors, decide whether a minor can be tried as an adult. Proceedings in juvenile court are not public.
As the guilty verdict was read Friday afternoon, Martinez slowly bowed his head.
Waters’ mother, Cora Klahn, inhaled deeply and put her fist to her lips as if holding back tears.
“I kind of feel like I can lay him to rest now,” Klahn said after hugging Deputy District Attorney Brian Kang, who prosecuted the case.
Waters, a 42-year-old Long Beach resident, was killed on April 23, 2013. Prosecutors say the two Long Beach Poly High School seniors beat him and strangled him before driving his body to Rancho Palos Verdes.
As Martinez’s trial came to a close last week, Deputy District Attorney Brian Kang told jurors that Berumen and Martinez planned the attack on Waters because they wanted to rob him.
“They killed somebody they knew for money,” Kang said.
Berumen and Martinez knew Waters because he was helping them start a T-shirt line, according to his family.
Waters ran his own company designing and making shirts, his sister Jennifer Waters said.
Before the shirt business, Waters made money customizing beach cruiser bicycles in Long Beach.
“He was truly an artist,” Jennifer Waters said. “I’m going to cry.”
Waters’ family said he was thoroughly nonjudmental. They’d watched him strike up conversations with equal gusto whether it was with a homeless man on a bus and a businessman in a Los Angeles-area Ritz-Carlton.
“He didn’t see classes in people,” Klahn said.
Waters lived unconventionally according to his family. He’d been in a sober-living home shortly before his death but was looking for an apartment of his own to move into in April 2013, his sister said.
The family pooled some money to help him afford a new place, according to Klahn.
That money for an apartment is what Berumen and Martinez stole the day they killed Waters, Kang said.
Berumen had been texting with Waters in the days before his death and arranged to show him an apartment as long as he brought rent and deposit money, Kang told jurors.
When Waters arrived at Berumen’s garage near Atlantic Avenue and Willow Street in Long Beach, the two teenagers jumped him, Kang alleged.
“He didn’t even have a chance to raise his hands up to block the blows,” Kang said, citing a lack of defense wounds on Waters’ arms.