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JUDGE LETS MURDER SUSPECT GO FREE AFTER WITNESSES HEDGE ABOUT I.D.

SHARE JUDGE LETS MURDER SUSPECT GO FREE AFTER WITNESSES HEDGE ABOUT I.D.

Murder suspect Benjamin Martinez had been in jail 101 days. A judge set him free Thursday night.

Witnesses who once pegged the 17-year-old from a photo lineup as the one who shot and killed Manual Ibarra seemed to forget this week what they saw on the evening of Aug. 18.Prosecutors say Martinez, during a "stare down" near a Smith's grocery store, pulled out a .38-caliber pistol and fired four times at a car driven by Ibarra. One of the bullets struck the boy, 15, just below his left eye. He lapsed into a coma and died four days later.

His two friends, one sitting in the passenger seat and the other in the back seat, testified in a preliminary hearing this week that they now could not say for sure who pulled the trigger.

"I couldn't recognize them," responded Samuel Bustamante when asked if the gunman was in the courtroom. Glancing quickly around the room and rarely at the accused, his testimony of the evening's events seemed scattered.

Maclen Chavez, the prosecution's other witness, also offered few details during testimony last week. That left the state with "no choice" but to accept a plan releasing Martinez to home confinement, said deputy county attorney Greg Bown.

"It was either that or dismiss the case. The witnesses just didn't make an I.D.," he said.

He'll be in court again next week for a continuation of the preliminary hearing.

Martinez was only 16 when he allegedly shot Ibarra, but last month was certified as an adult to face the murder charge.

McCleve ordered authorities to contact Martinez by phone at least twice a week during his release, that he have no contact with state witnesses, that he stay in his aunt's home and have no access to alcohol, drugs or firearms.