In the wake of an unsolved 2020 homicide, a lawmaker is pushing the Pentagon to overhaul how it handles cold cases.
One year after Spc. Enrique Roman-Martinez’s death was deemed a cold case, Democratic Congresswoman Norma J. Torres introduced a bill that would require the military to take steps to ensure cases like his aren’t improperly shelved by the services.
“The fact that Spc. Roman-Martinez’s case remains unsolved is unacceptable, and I have previously demanded that the Pentagon’s inspector general conduct a full, independent examination of what happened to this case,” Torres told Military.com in a statement via email.
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The bill, the Enrique Roman-Martinez Military Cold Case Justice Act, directs the secretary of defense to reform and provide greater oversight for the services’ investigatory arms when it comes to how they handle cold cases.
In addition to a report to Congress, Torres’ bill would require new processes for continuity between investigators on cases that may outlast one investigator’s time at a department, ensuring that the case continues without interruption caused by routine turnover, and to “specify the circumstances” in which a case is handed to the Pentagon’s inspector general for review.
Roman-Martinez was reported missing by one of the seven soldiers who accompanied him on an ill-fated Memorial Day Weekend camping trip to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. His head washed ashore just a few miles from where he was last seen.
Authorities marked his death a homicide and, more than a year later, the file has subsequently been deemed a cold case.
To date, the manner in which Roman-Martinez’s decapitation occurred has not been determined and no one has been charged in direct connection to his death. Murky and conflicting details continue to plague the case as the seven accompanying soldiers face charges for conspiracy or drug-related misconduct connected to the camping trip.
At least one has been quietly dismissed from the Army.
“Specialist Roman-Martinez and his family deserve justice for his murder, and it is an outrage that after two years of investigations we still have no answers in his case,” Torres, who counts the Roman-Martinez family as constituents in her California district, said in a statement Thursday.
The family has been critical of the service’s response since the paratrooper’s death.
Griselda Martinez, Roman-Martinez’s sister, told Military.com that she hopes that the legislation is a step in the right direction for military families battling frustrating cold cases, but remained despondent about the Army Criminal Investigation Division’s response to her brother’s case in the wake of his death.
“I have nobody,” Martinez said Monday of Army investigators and officials. “I had nobody this whole time on the team that actually wanted to help me, that wanted to help my family — my mom.”
Martinez pointed to frustrations she and her family experienced early on in the investigation, namely the decision to send Army and FBI investigators back to the crime scene with dive teams nearly seven months after Roman-Martinez’s head was found and the CID’s implication that he could have been decapitated by a boat.
“At the end of the day, I think [investigators] are just done with it,” Martinez said. She added that she thought they were “trying to wash their hands of it.”
When contacted by Military.com, a CID spokesperson pointed the public to the division’s cold case site, which lists information about the Roman-Martinez case and the $50,000 reward for information on it.
“The investigation remains open and ongoing,” Patrick Barnes, chief of public affairs for CID, told Military.com over email in response to a request for comment Thursday.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 100 soldiers have died either by suicide, overdose or homicide — some under mysterious circumstances — in and around the Fort Bragg area, according to Rolling Stone reporting from Seth Harp and local outlets.
When asked Monday about CID’s current cold-case process, Barnes said that the division “continues to transform its ability to centralize oversight and compliance of investigations at its headquarters in Quantico, Virginia.”
He added that the division recently established a Cold Case Unit, or CCU — a requirement requested by Torres in her bill.
“According to Supervisory Special Agent Todd Howell, death and cold case desk officer, within the [Investigations and Operations Directorate], an investigation will be moved to ‘Cold Case’ status when the local field office has conducted all logical and practical leads, and evidence has been analyzed to the extent of current technological and scientific capabilities,” Barnes wrote in an email.
CID defines a cold case as “a death investigation wherein the manner of death has been ruled as a homicide or is suspected to be a homicide, and all logical investigative leads have been exhausted without resolution,” he added.
After a case hits the Army’s CCU — which is composed of four people, Barnes said that the division continues to monitor the case as leads come in and forensic technology advances.
All seven soldiers who accompanied Roman-Martinez in May 2020 were charged with nonviolent crimes; at least two — Sgt. Samuel Moore and Spc. Alex Becerra — were convicted. Fort Bragg confirmed Becerra’s dismissal from the Army over the summer.
Roman-Martinez’s case is one of several high-profile investigations that the Army is grappling with where lower-enlisted troops — who are often people of color — have died and gained national attention for the dubious circumstances surrounding their deaths and the way the Army has handled the subsequent investigation or response. That list includes the murder of Spc. Vanessa Guillen in 2020 and, most recently, the death of Spc. Denisha Montgomery in August, which sparked national backlash.
For Martinez, her brother’s cold case represents an ongoing and open wound that lacks adequate justice. She said she was last contacted by CID in June, adding that she wishes investigators would take the case “more seriously.”
“They told me that, ‘We did everything we could,'” she said.
But Martinez believes that the Army was more concerned about supporting the seven troops who had gone camping with her brother.
“They did the best for them, not for me, not for my family, not for my brother.”
— Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.
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