A suspected contract killer charged in California with killing nine people confessed that he carried out up to 40 slayings in a career spanning decades, a prosecutor said.
Errek Jett, the district attorney in Lawrence county, Alabama, said on Wednesday that Jose Manuel Martinez, 51, told investigators he carried out the crimes working as an enforcer for a drug cartel. Jett said they believed Martinez because of the details he gave investigators which matched unsolved killings.
Martinez was arrested last year shortly after crossing the border from Mexico into Arizona and sent to Alabama, where he awaits trial on one murder charge. Once word got out, a steady stream of investigators from across the country came to question Martinez, Jett said.
Defence attorney Thomas Turner, who represents Martinez in that lone case, said his client was eager to start a June trial in Alabama, so he can return to California. Turner said Martinez maintained his innocence to the charge there and dod not seem to be a hardened killer.
"I've found him to be polite and a likable individual," Turner said. "He has a good personality as far as talking with him."
Prosecutors in California say otherwise.
Martinez targeted victims in Tulare, Kern and Santa Barbara counties between 1980 and 2011, Tulare county assistant district attorney Anthony Fultz, who filed charges on Tuesday, said. Investigators have released details of their case, saying six of the victims were killed in Tulare county, two in Kern and one in Santa Barbara. They ranged in age from 22 to 56, investigators said.
One man was shot dead in 1980 driving to work in the morning. Two men were shot in 1982 working on a ranch, one surviving. The same year, another man went missing before being found two days later by ranchers shot and stabbed to death. Yet another was found in 2000 shot to death in bed with his four children at home.
In addition to the nine murder counts, Martinez was charged in California with one count of attempted murder and the special circumstances of committing multiple murders, lying in wait, and kidnapping.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Suspected US hitman admits 40 kills