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Man charged in assault on Santa Maria woman, who died, was in U.S. illegally, police say

Man charged in assault on Santa Maria woman, who died, was in U.S. illegally, police say
Victor Aureliano Martinez Ramirez, 29,has been charged in the rape and fatal assault of a 64-year-old Santa Maria woman, police said. (Santa Maria Police Department)

A man living in the U.S. illegally has been charged in the rape and assault of a 64-year-old Santa Maria woman who later died of her injuries, authorities said Wednesday.

Victor Aureliano Martinez, 29, and another man are accused of breaking into the home of Marilyn Pharis on the morning of July 24 and attacking her with a hammer, according to police and a complaint filed by the Santa Barbara County district attorney's office.

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After the attack, Martinez escaped to a nearby home, where officers arrested him, according to the Santa Maria Police Department.

Pharis was hospitalized with "severe injuries" and died Aug. 1, police said. An autopsy was scheduled for Thursday.

Before Pharis died, Martinez pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder, sexual assault and burglary. He is in custody and is being held on $1-million bail, police said.

Martinez has been living in the country illegally, Santa Maria police Lt. Dan Cohen said. He has never been deported and has no prior felony criminal convictions, according to a federal official.

Yet Martinez has had prior brushes with the law.

He was arrested by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department in May 2014, when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement lodged an immigration detainer on him and requested notification before his release. Martinez was released a week later without ICE receiving any notification, according to the federal official.

More recently, Martinez was arrested July 16, but ICE opted not to lodge an immigration detainer, citing his lack of felony convictions or deportations.

In a statement, ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said that ICE "is monitoring the case closely" and that the agency has asked to be notified if Martinez is transferred or released.

Officials have said Martinez has a long history of arrests.

Meanwhile, police have identified a second person who allegedly attacked Pharis. Jose Villagomez, who was arrested in late July on unrelated charges, was booked Wednesday on suspicion of sexual assault and attempted murder. Police say he is a U.S. citizen.

Villagomez, 20, has not been formally charged.

For breaking news in California, follow @MattHjourno

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