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Santa Barbara County cold case likely solved after 31 years

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A California man has been charged with killing nine people in the state, including a Santa Barbara County cold case, and could possibly be responsible for 21 other murders over the past 32 years.

Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward says 51-year-old Jose Manuel Martinez was charged Tuesday with killing six people in his county, two in Kern County, and one here on the Central Coast. All nine crimes will be prosecuted by his office.

The Santa Barbara County murder happened on October 1, 1982 on a Santa Ynez Valley ranch. According to the District Attorney's Santa Maria office, 30-year-old Sylvestre Ayon was shot and killed while operating a tractor that was pulling hay bales. A 17-year-old Santa Ynez High School student was riding with Mr. Aron and was also shot, but survived.

Now—some 31 years later—there may be some closure.

"It's pretty remarkable to think that a case from that long ago could get solved," said Attorney Stephen Foley with the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Santa Maria office. "I'm sure the families that we're involved and the man that survived the shooting probably thought the case would never get solved, so it's certainly a good feeling for all involved to finally at least get to the point where there was enough evidence to charge Mr. Martinez and hopefully get justice."

Following the arrest of Martinez in Alabama last year, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department was notified by Tulare County regarding the Santa Ynez Valley case.

"Our detectives interviewed Martinez in Alabama and earlier this week Martinez was charged in Tulare County with our homicide, along with special circumstances and with an attempted murder on another victim in our county at the same time," sheriff's department spokesperson Kelly Hoover told KCBX. 

Martinez told authorities he was a hit man for a drug cartel, but refused to say which one. According to a Los Angeles Times report, he has confessed details of the various crimes in an effort to come clean. In addition to the California murders, he's also facing charges for killings in Alabama and Florida.

Martinez is from the small Tulare County town of Richgrove.