Home News Murder verdict in 2018 double shooting on San Jose hillside

Murder verdict in 2018 double shooting on San Jose hillside

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SAN JOSE — On a warm spring night in 2018, Emilio Salazar, Jennifer Josie Martinez and a friend got in a car and drove up Sierra Road to take in the breathtaking Silicon Valley view and throw themselves a little party.

They parked on the roadside, got some music playing, and consumed an alcoholic beverage or two while they danced on the hill. Salazar was really getting into it, waving his hands in the air to the music.

Fatefully, that caught the eye of a man driving up the hill, also with a car full of friends. One of those friends called out what he thought was Salazar making a hand gesture of a gun toward them.

Jose Luis Benitez Sanchez, shown here in a 2019 booking photo, was convicted on May 22, 2024 of two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of two people on Sierra Road in San Jose on May 16, 2018. (Courtesy of San Jose Police Dept.)
Jose Luis Benitez Sanchez, shown here in a 2019 booking photo, was convicted on May 22, 2024 of two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of two people on Sierra Road in San Jose on May 16, 2018. (Courtesy of San Jose Police Dept.) 

The driver, Jose Luis Benitez Sanchez, pulled up to the dancing group with his window rolled down. Salazar, 21, and Martinez, 24, walked up, and said no more than a handful of words before Benitez Sanchez abruptly pulled out a handgun and fired repeatedly at the two, mortally wounding them.

The entire episode was witnessed by the victims’ surviving friend, who scrambled to find cover and waited anxiously for the gunman to drive off. Once the scene was clear, she rushed over to her friends, who died on the moonlit road.

On Wednesday, a jury convicted Benitez Sanchez, now 27, of two counts of first-degree murder and one count each of shooting from a car and auto theft — he was driving a stolen vehicle the night of the shooting.

When factoring in sentencing enhancements that the jury also affirmed, Benitez Sanchez faces a term of life in prison without the possibility of parole when he is sentenced, presumably later this year. An exact date is pending because he is also being prosecuted for two jail stabbings authorities say he committed while in custody.

In reaching their verdict, jurors rejected Benitez Sanchez’s claims that he acted in self defense.

“We’re happy with the verdict,” Martinez’s mother, also named Jennifer, said in an interview with this news organization. “It’s a huge relief he won’t be back out in the community. Of course, it doesn’t bring our kids back, so it’s bittersweet. The journey has been very long and taken a huge toll on our lives.”

Emilio Salazar and Jennifer Josie Martinez are shown in undated photos. Jose Luis Benitez Sanchez has been convicted of murder in the May 16, 2018 shooting deaths of the two, during what authorities say was a chance encounter on Sierra Road in San Jose. (Photos courtesy of Salazar and Martinez families)
Emilio Salazar and Jennifer Josie Martinez are shown in undated photos. Jose Luis Benitez Sanchez has been convicted of murder in the May 16, 2018 shooting deaths of the two, during what authorities say was a chance encounter on Sierra Road in San Jose. (Photos courtesy of Salazar and Martinez families) 

Elaine Salazar, Emilio’s mother, echoed those mixed feelings, saying she doesn’t feel much closure, but wants her experience to give hope to victims’ families who sometimes have to wait years for their loved ones’ homicide cases to reach resolution.

“I want people to know not so much that he got justice, but to encourage other families going through the same thing,” Salazar said. “At first we felt it was not going to happen. It took almost a year to get any leads. Now it’s been six years to get the verdict. I want to tell people not to give up.”

The shooting occurred May 16, 2018; Benitez Sanchez was not linked to the killings until the following April. Murder charges were built in part on a San Jose police investigation that examined surveillance video from the area, located the stolen car driven during the crime, and found forensic evidence including gunpowder residue in the vehicle as well as bullet casings for a .45 caliber pistol that was confiscated from a friend and former co-defendant of Benitez Sanchez.

In the interceding years, the trial path was delayed, most significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding lockdowns that produced a massive backlog of trial cases. Benitez Sanchez’s case was one of the first to be unspooled from that backlog once the county courts began to resume normal operations.

“It was six years and six days since the murder,” said Deputy District Attorney Kevin Smith, referring to the timing of the verdict. “This was a long path to justice and it was a very important day for the Martinez and Salazar families.”

Smith added, “This verdict makes it quite clear that (we) don’t forget about victims of crime.”



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