Crime - Sacto 911

May murder trial for man who killed friend in bulletproof vest prank

Miguel Martinez
Miguel Martinez Courtesy of Thomas Cline

It was supposed to be a test. A barely visible Miguel Martinez stood in the clearing at Bannister Park, the smartphone video showed, hands in his pockets and wearing a bulletproof vest a friend picked up from a man on the street.

Laughter and a profane exclamation are heard from the group gathered next him. No more than 10 feet away, prosecutors say, Elijah Lambert trained a .22-caliber handgun on his friend and roommate.

“Don’t miss,” Martinez said. A sharp crack sounded out in the darkness. Martinez recoiled, groaned and walked toward the group before the phone’s camera went black. The single bullet struck the 19-year-old Martinez in the torso. He died as friends tried to carry him back to their car.

Lambert, 22, will be tried for murder in May, a year after fatally shooting his bulletproof vest-clad friend May 22, 2015 at the Fair Oaks park, a judge ruled at Lambert’s preliminary hearing Tuesday.

“You don’t fire a weapon at someone, whether they’re wearing a vest or not. This was incredibly reckless behavior,” prosecuting Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Thien Ho told Sacramento Superior Court Judge James McFetridge as Lambert sat silently, his head bowed, with his attorneys Byron Roope and Chris Parker.

Ho played one of two deleted videos of the shooting recovered by Sacramento County sheriff’s investigators from the smartphone of Lambert’s girlfriend, who was at the park with Lambert, Martinez and another friend. Investigators in testimony Tuesday say they were told by Martinez’s friends that Lambert’s ill-fated stunt was inspired by an Internet video of a person fired on with a .25-caliber handgun while wearing a ballistic vest.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Dennis Prizmich testified that Lambert’s friends said the group went to the park to test out the vest. One friend suggested putting the vest on a pumpkin, Prizmich said. May wasn’t pumpkin season, Lambert reasoned, saying Martinez volunteered to don the vest after Lambert said he would wear it next.

After the gunshot, friends first thought the round’s impact knocked the wind out of Martinez, Prizmich testified. Only when Lambert’s girlfriend took off Martinez’s shirt did they realize how grave the situation had become, he said.

Friends called 911 and Lambert quickly concocted a story for approaching deputies, Prizmich testified. Lambert would claim that two men jumped the group and the gun accidentally went off during the stickup, killing Martinez.

The story didn’t hold up and Lambert was arrested on suspicion of murder in Martinez’s killing. On Tuesday, defense attorney Roope called Martinez’s death tragic and the result of a “very stupid prank,” but that Lambert should not face a murder charge.

“There isn’t any doubt that this is a tragic situation. The four people involved made terrible decisions, but no one intended for Mr. Martinez to die,” Roope said.

But prosecutor Ho said the recklessness of Lambert’s actions that May night warrant the murder allegation.

“He’s made a choice. He’s going to have to live with that choice,” Ho said. “Mr. Martinez’s family is going to have to live with the consequences of that choice.”

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith