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Fool for Love?

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When Rosalie Martinez first laid eyes on serial killer Oscar Ray Bolin Jr., he had been brought from Florida’s death row to a small holding cell in the county jail here to await the first of his three retrials.

Convicted of the brutal rapes and murders 10 years ago of three young women, 35-year-old Bolin is considered by authorities to be a dangerous psychopath, a smooth-talking con man and an escape risk who has made direct threats on the lives of police. So when she was escorted into Bolin’s cell, Martinez says, two guards toting shotguns stood nearby.

“I felt like I was going in to see Hannibal Lector,” she says.

Face to face, Martinez nervously introduced herself, then told Bolin: “I am your angel. I want to save your life.”

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“Prove it,” he replied.

That initial meeting 18 months ago lasted five hours, Martinez recalls, and almost from the beginning, “I felt an affinity for Mr. Bolin. He was in a 9-by-12-foot cell, with just a bed, desk and toilet. I felt his isolation, his confinement, his loneliness.

“It affected me. Because I felt the same way. And it left me breathless.”

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At 36, Rosalie Martinez might seem a little young, and perhaps a little too firmly ensconced in Tampa’s moneyed society, to undergo a very public and tumultuous midlife crisis that has stunned her family--especially her four young daughters--shocked her friends, and scandalized the country club set in this Gulf Coast city. Although for the last two years Martinez was a social worker with the Hillsborough County public defender’s office, she was best known through the pages of the local newspapers as the wife for 17 years of top criminal defense attorney Victor D. Martinez, himself the scion of one of this city’s oldest and most prominent families.

Victor Martinez’s father, Victor J. Martinez, is medical director of the county’s Community Health and Human Services and a pioneering cardiovascular surgeon. He traces his lineage to the founders of Ybor City, the historic Tampa neighborhood once home to the city’s earliest Spanish-speaking settlers.

With a $375,000 home in an exclusive oak-shaded enclave in Brandon, east of Tampa, closets full of designer clothes, plenty of expensive jewelry, and a Mercedes 300 to shuttle the couple’s children, ages 14, 12, 7 and 6, from school at the Academy of Holy Names to ballet lessons and soccer games, Rosalie Martinez seemed to be living a full, enviable life.

But as Bolin’s first retrial on murder charges began in New Port Richey, north of here, last month, Martinez began hinting to local reporters that while working on his case as a mitigation specialist--scouring his background for reasons he should be spared the electric chair--she had fallen in love with the man.

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Bolin had been granted a second chance when the state Supreme Court ruled that his ex-wife should not have been permitted to testify against him when he was first convicted. For months Martinez had spent hours each day talking to Bolin in his jail cell, virtually neglecting her family. She spent two weeks on the road, visiting Bolin’s hometown of Portland, Ind., and then following the trail of his hardscrabble, trailer park life through the hills of Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

Sure, Martinez said, Bolin had been a drifter, a carnival worker, a long-distance trucker, had dealt in drugs and had pleaded guilty to a vicious gunpoint rape in 1988.

But “my Oscar,” as she called him, was no killer, Martinez insisted, and she talked unabashedly of her romantic fantasy of riding off into the sunset with Bolin once she proved his innocence.

By the time Bolin’s first retrial began last month in the Pasco County courthouse, Martinez was estranged from her family and had quit the public defender’s office under pressure after jail officials suggested she’d had sex with Bolin in his cell.

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The trial itself often seemed a mere sideshow to a more sensational affair, the romance between the improbable and the doomed.

One day Bolin threw a tantrum, shredding his prison-issue underwear and refusing to get dressed when jailers told him he couldn’t wear the Brooks Brothers briefs Martinez had tucked into the pockets of the designer suit she had bought him.

The next day, the courtroom was abuzz after a reporter handed Martinez a note informing her that her husband, Victor--who days earlier had expressed support for his wife--had filed for divorce.

“I was shocked, hurt,” says Martinez, who fled the courtroom and telephoned her husband from the hallway while reporters listened in.

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The day after that, the judge kicked Martinez out of the courtroom when she began shaking her head as Bolin’s stepbrother testified that he saw Bolin beat and drown a woman whose body was then wrapped in a sheet.

Martinez’s fantasies notwithstanding, Oscar Ray Bolin is unlikely to be riding anywhere except back to death row. On Aug. 21 a jury took just 30 minutes to convict him again of the abduction, rape and fatal stabbing of bank clerk Teri Lynn Matthews, 26. Two days later the same jury needed only 28 minutes to unanimously recommend Bolin be sentenced again to the electric chair. The judge is to decide Bolin’s fate Oct. 9.

Two other retrials, for slayings in Hillsborough County, will be held next year.

Martinez’s divorce became final Aug. 25, just two weeks after her husband filed the initial petition. She did not have her own attorney. She agreed to a settlement of $2,000 a month in alimony, half the proceeds from the sale of the house, along with all the furnishings and her jewelry, and what she calls liberal visitation with her four daughters. He keeps the Mercedes, and she gets a Ford Taurus.

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Is Rosalie Martinez a love-struck fool who threw it all away for a cold-blooded killer, or a savvy professional who just happened to find true love in the most unexpected of places, with the most unlikely of men?

“This is no naive socialite,” insists Nancy Weaver, a drug counselor who has known and worked with Martinez for years. “She has worked with the criminal population long enough to know that when someone says good morning, you need to look at your watch. She is not dumb. She fell in love. It’s that simple.”

Michael Halkitis, assistant state attorney in Pasco County, does not know Martinez. But he does know Bolin, having just successfully prosecuted him for murder a second time.

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“This guy is a serial killer, a Ted Bundy type, who is able to mesmerize women,” Halkitis says. “He speaks softly, he looks nice, and that’s how he gets these women to come with him. He preyed on young, attractive girls.”

In addition to the three murders for which he’s been convicted, Bolin is suspected of other slayings in Ohio and Texas, Halkitis says.

As for Martinez, Halkitis opines: “Here’s a person who is married, with four children, a homemaker, and she says, ‘This is getting boring. I’ve got to experience something like my husband is experiencing.’ So she got herself into the limelight.”

Martinez says Bolin was framed by police who fed his ex-wife--who died of diabetes in 1992--details of the murders she would later testify to at trial. After the ex-wife’s death, Martinez says, prosecutors came up with other witnesses, such as Bolin’s stepbrother, Phillip, and coached them on what to say.

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Bolin never had a chance, she says.

And neither, she says, did she.

Dressed in an olive-green suit accented with a gold and diamond brooch, and with large diamonds gleaming from her ears and fingers, Rosalie Martinez is sitting in the living room of her five-bedroom colonial house. Outside, the Spanish moss hangs limply from the trees. Through the French doors in the dining room the morning sunlight shimmers off the blue waters of the pool. Two small bicycles are propped against one of the white columns on the front porch.

But the house is still, as if the life that once filled it has been suddenly sucked out. The children are gone, now with their father in a Tampa condominium. A “For Sale” sign hangs from a post in the front lawn.

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As she begins to talk about her life, Martinez crosses her legs at the ankle and extends her hand along the top of the couch toward a portable telephone. She is waiting for a collect call from Bolin in jail. But the phone does not ring.

“I had a very controlled, Sicilian, only-daughter Catholic upbringing,” she begins. Rosalie Cacciatore was 15 years old when she met Victor Martinez at a basketball game between her parochial high school and his. Her father, Joe, was a hard-working mechanic who ran a gas station and later became an executive with an oil company. Her mother, Margarita, born in Spain, was a tailor at JCPenney. They were so strict, she says, that they forbade her to bring friends to the house after school, or even to date--until she met Victor Martinez.

The couple married in June 1979 in what is still remembered as one of the most lavish weddings ever seen in Tampa. More than 1,000 guests drank champagne and ate shrimp at a Marriott hotel. She was 19, and he was 21.

Martinez says she was given seven bridal showers, and after the honeymoon she was exultant over the prospect of coming home to open the hundreds of wedding gifts the couple had received. But by the time the newlyweds returned from Acapulco’s Las Brisas resort, all the gifts had been opened, most of them returned, and her new mother-in-law had already written and mailed the thank-you notes.

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There was nothing for Rosalie Martinez to do then but to settle into the condominium her husband’s family had bought for them in Houston, where Victor was enrolled in law school, and get used to her role of wife and prospective mother.

In 17 years of marriage, Martinez says, she never went shopping alone, never chose her own friends, and was never invited to participate in family decisions. She had no credit cards in her own name. Victor even picked out her clothes and jewelry, she says. “I would dress the way he wanted me to be,” she sighs.

After Victor graduated from law school in 1982, the couple moved back to Tampa and he joined the state attorney’s office as a prosecutor. With one child and another on the way, Rosalie was permitted to go to a school for court reporters. When she finished, her father-in-law set her up with an office, and both he and her husband sent her clients. She turned her earnings over to her husband.

But in 1988, the father’s wife divorced him and he wanted to get out of Tampa for a while. So after 35 years as a heart surgeon, the elder Martinez returned to his medical school alma mater, the University of Miami, and while practicing medicine by day got a law degree at night. Victor, Rosalie and their two children went too. He went to work as a federal public defender, and she found part-time work with a private law firm.

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Back in Tampa four years later, the younger Martinez went into private practice, and Rosalie worked to get him started. But eventually, she says, “I wasn’t having fun and he didn’t need me. I was depressed, and eating for comfort. I weighed 200 pounds. And when I realized that, that’s when the evolution started.”

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This month Rosalie Martinez moved to Gainesville, where she hopes to study law at the University of Florida and eventually help Bolin with his appeals. Energized by the changes in her life, and slimmed down by 70 pounds over the past year, she seems relentlessly cheerful and optimistic. She has sold the film rights to her story to a Los Angeles production company, Silver Creek Entertainment.

“It fascinates me the way this woman fell in love with this man,” says Silver Creek President Larry Garrison. “I see it as ‘Dead Man Walking.’ ”

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In interviews from jail, Bolin has called Martinez “a remarkable woman.” Since filing for divorce, Victor Martinez has declined comment on his wife’s odyssey. But last Monday, he and the children drove to Gainesville and helped hang pictures in her new apartment.

“I am the children’s mother,” says Rosalie Martinez, “And Victor and I will always be friends.”

At the same time, she remains committed to Bolin, although she allows that her dreams of a real romance with him are unlikely to be fulfilled.

For a suddenly single woman who has known only one man since she was 15, a charming yet unavailable death row inmate seems a pretty safe fantasy.

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“Oscar is very kind, and he loves me,” she says. “He can’t give me anything. He can’t even hug me. But we have an emotional bond, which is better than physical. I feel safe, secure, confident, happy. He knows what I need, and no one else--including Victor--did.”

She knows others are skeptical. “I no longer worry about what other people think,” she continues. “I am doing what makes me happy. If I die tomorrow, I die knowing that I’ve felt love I’ve never felt before. It’s an unconditional relationship. I don’t think his motives are malicious. But if I’m hurt, that’s OK. I’ll move on.

“This has turned my life upside-down, and I’m sorry it’s affected others. But I have to look forward or I’d go bonkers.

“I want to be seen as someone who’s courageous, who stood up for what she believed in. I don’t regret one thing. I feel liberated. I feel like I’ve been let out of a box. Before, everyone had their life, and Rosalie just wasn’t part of it.

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“I was in a cocoon, and I became a butterfly.”


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