Things That Matter

Ruben Martinez Jr. Exonerated After 11 Years In Los Angeles Prison

In 2008, Ruben Martinez Jr. was sentenced to 47 years and eight months in prison for crimes he never committed. Nearly 13 years after his arrest, Martinez walked out of the Los Angeles Superior Court a free man, exonerated from his wrongful conviction. “I did not do this time by myself,” Martinez said on the court steps. “My family did time. My wife did time with me, did the 11 years with me. I couldn’t do it on my own, by my own strength. It was God’s strength that got me through this.” His wife, Maria Martinez, a secretary for the sheriff’s department, appealed the conviction five times only to be rejected each time.

Ruben may have never experienced freedom if Maria didn’t pull some strings to convince prosecutors to look at his case, a sobering detail for innocent inmates without connections.

Ruben and Maria were all smiles as their unjust chapter came to a close.

Credit: @LADAOffice / Twitter

“All my husband wanted was for the truth to be revealed. Well, the truth has been revealed, and he’s a free man,” Maria Martinez said. Ruben had never wavered in his innocence and even turned down a plea deal that would have given him a two and a half year prison sentence. “I am sorry for this injustice and I am so happy that you did not give up on us and allowed us to share this moment,” District Attorney Jackie Lacey, pictured in the blazer, told the Martinez family. 

“Mr. Martinez and his wife proved to be unstoppable in their pursuit of his freedom,” DA Lacey told reporters. “Throughout this terrible experience, the two were never deterred by setbacks and instead demonstrated remarkable strength and dignity through what I imagine must have been a dark time in their lives.”

Ruben Martinez Jr. was convicted, even though he was working when the crimes were committed.

Credit: @oborraez / Twitter

All it took was one witness to identify Ruben as the armed robber who held up the same auto body shop five times. During the 2005 to 2007 sprees, Ruben was employed at a temporary employment agency and has proof that he was working during two of the robberies. In fact, Ruben had to endure two trials that failed to prove his innocence. The first trial ended as a mistrial after the jury was deadlocked. During the second trial, two key witnesses to his innocence were not called by either the defense or the prosecution. He was convicted and sentenced to 47 years and eight months in prison on nine counts of armed robbery.

But Maria was relentless in proving his innocence.

Credit: @LADAOffice / Twitter

After five rejected appeals, Maria leaned on close family friend and retired homicide detective, Catherine Wills. Wills and her husband were so close with the Martinez’s that Wills’s husband walked Maria down the aisle and gave her hand to Ruben. Wills and Maria compiled six months of research into a binder to give to DA Lacey. Wills’ credibility and persistence went a long way. “I told them, ‘Look, I’m 82 years old now, and I’m not going to die until Ruben Martinez is out of prison,'” Wills reportedly said.

In 2015, DA Lacey’s office created a unit dedicated to reviewing wrongful conviction claims, but Ruben’s case is only the third case supported in four years. Still, it was DA Lacey’s unit that “painstakingly tracked down witnesses and uncovered employment records and pay stubs that confirmed that Mr. Martinez could not have committed two of the crimes that were clearly the work of the same serial robber,” CNN reports Lacey to have said.

Ruben says that he has “no grudges.”

Credit: @LADAOffice / Twitter

Ruben is the first person that DA Lacey exonerated without any legal representation. “Although the vast majority of convictions are correctly upheld, I knew that, at times, the pursuit of justice, which depends on human beings, is not perfect,” Lacey told reporters. “And Mr. Martinez’s case serves as a stark reminder to all of us: Despite our best efforts, we don’t always get it right.”

“The Lord Jesus Christ is a part of my life, and there’s no grudges.” Ruben told the crowd. “People are human people do make mistakes. But what touches me is when the DA got behind me and stamped me … and proved me innocent — so what grudge?” What’s next for Ruben? Right now, he’s just excited to get his driver’s license and get a job.

READ: Eight New Witnesses Implicate Stites’ Fiancé, A Former Cop, Pointing To Rodney Reed’s Innocence

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Turns Out The First Owner Of Beverly Hills Was An Impressive Afro-Mexican Woman

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Turns Out The First Owner Of Beverly Hills Was An Impressive Afro-Mexican Woman

Beverly Hills, one of the most well-known destinations in the country and world has long been a thriving and prime area for real-estate. Long before it was colonized by the Spanish, and was largely populated by rich white elites, the Indigenous people of California known as the Tongva, thrived there.

Hundreds of years later, in the 1830s, when the area was colonized, Maria Rita Valdez Villa, the granddaughter of Spanish colonists Luis and Maria Quintero and the great-granddaughter of an African slave was granted the original 4,500-acre of Beverly Hills, then known as El Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas.

Yes, as it turns out the foremother of Beverly Hills was a Black Latina!

During her ownership, Maria Rita oversaw cattle ranching and farming.

According to LA Magazine, Rita “was well known for holding a yearly celebratory rodeo under a famous eucalyptus tree at what is now Pico and Robertson boulevards.”

Sadly, after working the land for so much time, three Indigenous Californian outlaws attacked the ranch in 1852. The attack led to a shootout amongst “a grove of walnut trees at what is now Benedict Canyon and Chevy Chase drives” and eventually in 1854 Maria Rita decided to sell the area to investors Henry Hancock and Benjamin D. Wilson for $4,000.

Perhaps there’s a chance for justice for Maria Rita in the end.

Recently, Los Angeles County officials revealed that they were contemplating returning a beachfront property that was seized from a Black family nearly a century ago.

According to the Guardian, Manhattan Beach used “eminent domain” in 1924 to force Willa and Charles Bruce, the city’s first Black landowners, of the land where they lived. “The Bruces also ran a resort for Black families during a time when beaches in the strand were segregated,” explained the Guardian in a recent report. “Part of the land was developed into a city park. It is now owned by Los Angeles county and houses lifeguard headquarters and a training center.”

Manhattan Beach county Supervisor Janice Hahn announced that she was looking into ways to restore justice for Bruce family. Options include delivering the land back to the family, paying for losses, or potentially leasing the property from them

“I wanted the county of Los Angeles to be a part of righting this terrible wrong,” Hahn explained in a recent interview with KABC-TV.

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mitúCares: Babes Of Wellness Wins Grant To Help Domestic Violence Survivors Heal Mentally And Physically

Things That Matter

mitúCares: Babes Of Wellness Wins Grant To Help Domestic Violence Survivors Heal Mentally And Physically

As our community works to beat and recover from the Covid pandemic, mitúCares wants to help those helping our community in this time. We asked all of you to nominate people who were making our community better with their work and you delivered. mitú is proud to announce that Babes in Wellness is one of two winners for the mitúCares grant program.

Babes of Wellness is more than a fitness business.

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Founder Kat Novoa started Babes of Wellness with a vision to help people achieve wellness as well as physical fitness. Novoa started Babes of Wellness in South LA as an extension of her work as a domestic violence advocacy.

“I became a domestic violence advocate back in 2016 and in volunteering in these shelters and providing complimentary fitness classes for the survivors of violence that were at these shelters, I realized that fitness wasn’t enough for them. Once I introduced them to mindfulness practices like meditation, journaling, just affirmations, I really noticed a change in them and a shift in their mindset.”

Novoa noticed that the fitness industry was not a place that allowed for the mindful healing that can happen while engaged in physical fitness. The male-dominated industry wasn’t built to help with that kind of work.

“Women have been stigmatized for so long and sexualized because of our bodies,” Novoa says. “There’s not really an emphasis, especially in a male-dominated industry like the fitness industry, to take care of and tend to our emotional needs, our spiritual needs all in one place.”

The fitness professional wanted to make sure she helped the community that made her.

Novoa grew up in South LA and there was nothing the community like Babes of Wellness. She saw this as an opportunity to bring something to her community that will help people heal and grow, especially after 2020.

The pandemic has devastated low-income communities and communities of color. Our community has experienced the disproportionate impact of Covid with mounting deaths and financial losses. Unemployment surged and hospitals filled with our loved ones leaving a lot of damage and trauma from which we still need to collectively heal.

“Me, myself, I recently lost my dad due to Covid and I think that for me now that my business and the mission has really changed in the last few months for me,” Novoa recalls. “Now, more than ever, I feel even more passionate about helping our community and really teaching them these principles where they haven’t been taught. They’ve never had access or resources to someone who looks like them that cares about them and knows their struggles.”

Novoa plans to use the same skills and tools she uses to help survivors of domestic violence to find peace to help others heal. The boutique fitness studio is a place where people can find peace while working up a sweat.

Knowing that her work is helping people is the most important part of her day.

Novoa is moved by every client that tells her how much they get out of the work they do with her. Her plan is to make sure that everyone can get to their goals while enjoying the work.

“There was a girl that followed me on Instagram for a really really long time. Years. Prior to me going into this industry though mutual friends,” Novoa recalls. “She saw my journey and she thought 1) she looks like me 2) she’s female in a male-dominated industry 3) she’s Latina 4) she works with survivors of violence. She was a survivor of violence herself. She was overweight and she was really really insecure and she never thought that in her life she could look and feel and be the way that she is.”

Two years later and Novoa is still working with the client.

Congratulations, Kat!

READ: Domestic Violence Victims Have Been Using Code Words At Pharmacies To Escape Abusers During Lockdowns

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