Wife of Capital Region soldier accused of killing two officers in Iraq is lonely island of support

Section: Main,  Page: A1

Date: Sunday, September 28, 2008

Saddam Hussein's "Water Palace" rose three stories above the Iraqi desert on a man-made green lagoon.

By the time explosions killed two New York-based Army National Guard officers there on June 7, 2005, it was a U.S. military base that was considered one of the safest places for an American in Iraq. The deaths were not blamed on an Iraqi tyrant already headed for the gallows. Investigators called it murder.

Six thousand miles away in Rensselaer County, Tamara Martinez answered a cellphone call. She learned the man she met at a Troy bowling alley 20 years earlier and later married had been charged with the slayings of Capt. Phillip Esposito, 30, of Suffern and 1st Lt. Louis Allen, 34, of Milford, Pa.

Three years later, Staff Sgt. Alberto Martinez of Schaghticoke, 40, is headed to trial Oct. 7 in Fort Bragg, N.C. He faces his own possible execution if convicted of the killings.

Tamara Martinez, 45, is expected to be a lonely island of support for her husband at the court martial proceeding amid a sea of devastated family members and friends seeking justice for their dead loved ones.

"People will think what they want - and that's OK," said Martinez in her most in-depth interview since her husband's arrest. "Most people have already come to their conclusion about the case ... I'm supporting my husband."

Her family has avoided interviews, but Tamara Martinez spoke freely as the trial nears. She agreed to talk generally about her husband but avoided comment about the details of the case.

Tammy Martinez, the name she uses, visited her husband at his Fort Bragg jail once a month until money and time became scarce.

Now the couple speak by phone about once a week.

When asked, Martinez makes no judgment about her husband's guilt or innocence, saying she is focusing on her role at home. Tammy and the man she calls "Albert" have two children, ages 17 and 19.

"It's very hard on us - I'm not going to say that it's not because it is," she said. "We're strong. We're together. We'll see this through and face this."

Two other New York families watched a loved one go to war and later learned they were dead that June morning. They lost husbands, sons and fathers. And, according to military prosecutors, that is all because of her husband's deadly decision.

"There will be no peace for me," Barbara Allen, the lieutenant's widow, told the Times Union by e-mail on Friday, "until the traitor who murdered my husband is held accountable to the fullest extent of the law."

Siobhan Esposito, the captain's widow, declined comment.

Martinez did not address statements expressed by the grieving family members. She offered sympathies.

"I feel bad for anyone who lost a loved one," she said. "I can't imagine losing a loved one that way."

Alberto Martinez was born in Puerto Rico, moved to the Capital Region in 1983 and graduated from Lansingburgh High School three years later.

Tammy Martinez met her husband when they belonged to competing bowling teams in Troy in October 1987.

"We just got talking and one thing led to another," she said. "We've been together ever since." At an investigative hearing in Fort Bragg last October, a high school friend of Martinez said he was "bubbly" and "always cracking jokes,"according to an Associated Press report at the time. Martinez' sister-in-law, Amy Church, said at the same hearing she believed Martinez and her sister were too immature for marriage.

They were wed in 1990 in the former United Methodist Church of Lansingburgh.

"It seemed to me and to us that they were children themselves," she said. "I found Al to be immature. He didn't take things seriously. But I know he always worked hard ."

He worked at a local UPS store and the Watervliet Arsenal. He also attended Hudson Valley Community College.

After talking it over with Tammy's brother, who was in the military, Martinez joined the New York Army National Guard's 42nd Infantry Division in 1990, where he eventually won promotion to staff sergeant.

He spent nine days in New York City following the 9/11 attacks. Martinez went to Iraq in early 2005 after training the year before at Fort Drum.

But the fragging charge is not his first brush with the law.

An insurance company accused Martinez of torching his former home in Cohoes in December 2002, charging he used training to make it look like an accident. Martinez has denied the allegations.

Three years later, he wound up at the Water Palace, one of many buildings on Saddam Hussein's presidential complex in Tikrit, the Iraqi leader's hometown.

It was called the Water Palace because it sat upon the green lagoon. But outside an occasional mortar attack, the building was considered low-risk of attack by insurgents.

The Martinez murder trial will spotlight one of the few "fragging" cases in the Iraqi war. The term describes the action of a military member killing a superior in rank.

Alberto Martinez is accused of using a Claymore mine to kill Esposito and Allen. The 9-inch mines are filled with 700 steel ball bearings. It is typically detonated by using a long wire.

Prosecutors hoped to use a statement Martinez gave investigators as evidence but it was ruled inadmissible. In that statement, Martinez allegedly admitted friction between himself and Esposito, saying he "reduce me on rank but I ignore him."

Martinez also placed himself in a portable toilet at the time of the explosions. The prosecution called it "critical evidence" be cause a witness "spotted a wire that day running from the crime scene to "the very porta-potty where (Martinez) admits he was located."

While that evidence is out of the trial, victims' families members remain confident of a conviction.

Military prosecutors and defense lawyer were not available for comment.

Martinez learned her husband was accused of the slayings after speaking to her brother at her daughter's sporting event in Lansingburgh, she said. Her brother heard who the prime suspect in the deaths might be, she said. She placed a phone call to a Latham state armory. The call back confirmed her worst fears.

Before long, swarms of media sought to speak to the woman who married a soldier accused of the military's most unspeakable crime. She received phone calls from news outlets from as far away as Canada, Germany and Japan.

"Not long after the news came out you couldn't even drive down my road," she said. "We couldn't even go out."

Robert Gavin can be reached at 434-2403 or by e-mail at rgavin@ timesunion.com.