Crime

‘It’s my life on the line.’ Merced County homicide defendant gets testy with the judge.

Merced Police investigate homicide, home invasion in Merced

The Merced Police Department is investigating a homicide and home invasion in the 400 block of Tucolay Court in Merced, Calif., on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019.
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The Merced Police Department is investigating a homicide and home invasion in the 400 block of Tucolay Court in Merced, Calif., on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019.

A man charged with killing 34-year-old Lajawn Cokley argued with Merced County Judge Jeanne Schechter during his arraignment hearing, interrupting and arguing with her multiple times as she appointed a new attorney to represent him in court.

James Martin, 28, appeared in court Thursday morning and immediately started pleading with Schechter.

“It’s my life on the line,” Martin said to Schechter, telling her he had a baby on the way. “I didn’t do none of this ...”

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James Collins Martin, 28, of Oakland, argues with Merced County Superior Court Judge Jeanne Schechter during an arraignment hearing on charges alleging he killed Lajawn Cokley, a Merced resident, during a home invasion robbery. Vikaas Shanker vshanker@mercedsunstar.com

Schechter warned Martin about swearing in the courtroom, telling him the court will review the evidence during a future preliminary hearing. Martin apologized, but continued to interrupt Schechter after his court-appointed attorney, Susan Albertoni, declared a conflict of interest.

Schechter warned Martin several more times to stop “rambling.” She ordered Merced County’s contract public defender firm, Ciummo and Associates, to appoint a new attorney for Martin.

Martin was being held in lieu of $1.2 million on suspicion of first degree murder and robbery stemming from the Jan. 25 incident, according to jail records. He has yet to enter a plea.

Witnesses told police Cokley answered a doorbell at their home in the 400 block of Tucolay Court in Merced in the early hours of Jan. 25, according to investigation reports. Three men allegedly shot Cokley and invaded their home.

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A man who did not want to be identified, displays a photo of Merced resident Lajawn Cokley on his phone as the Merced Police Department investigate a homicide and home invasion in the 400 block of Tucolay Court in Merced, Calif., on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. A witness said Cokley was shot and killed when multiple people entered the home and stole items before fleeing the scene early Friday morning. Andrew Kuhn akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

The three individuals reportedly also put a gun to Cokley’s girlfriend’s head and threatened to shoot her before the girlfriend’s daughter pointed them to the direction of a locked safe, according to the reports. The thieves took the safe, which ended up being empty, and left the home.

As officers responded to the home, they found Cokley with several gunshot wounds, and they asked Cokley who shot him, according to reports. Cokley responded by giving a nickname police believe Martin uses.

Martin’s arraignment hearing, in which he is expected to make a plea, was scheduled for Monday so the court can seek a suitable public defender for him.

The Merced Police Department is investigating a homicide and home invasion in the 400 block of Tucolay Court in Merced, Calif., on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019.

Vikaas Shanker is an award-winning reporter covering education, crime and courts for the Merced Sun-Star and Los Banos Enterprise. After growing up in Naperville, Illinois and graduating from the University of Kansas, he reported in several Chicago suburbs before moving to Merced County in 2016.
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