LARAMIE — Wyoming men’s basketball player Luke Martinez pleaded not guilty to a felony count of aggravated assault and battery at his arraignment in 2nd District Court Wednesday morning, his response to a charge that stems from his involvement in a Dec. 31 bar fight in downtown Laramie.
During the court appearance that took less than 10 minutes, Judge Jeffrey Donnell set a jury trial for Aug. 26 through 28. After the hearing, Martinez’s attorney, Tom Fleener, addressed Martinez’s situation for the first time publicly.
“Luke is a victim here,” Fleener said. “He’s lost his college basketball career. He wasn’t the aggressor that night. This was a bar fight in a college town. No weapons were used. While the injuries were certainly unfortunate, Luke is the one who is truly suffering today.”
According to an affidavit of probable cause obtained after Martinez’s Jan. 13 arrest, the 22-year old admitted to police that he kicked a man in the face outside of the Buckhorn in the early-morning hours of Dec. 31. That man later underwent surgery to wire shut a broken jaw.
In the affidavit, Martinez did tell authorities he was punched in the face by the man.
The same affidavit also cited three witnesses, employees of the Buckhorn, who say Martinez moved toward then kicked the male victim in the face after Wyoming sophomore backup forward Derek Cooke Jr. knocked the victim out with a punch. One witness said the kick “looked like a perfect soccer kick.” A witness also said Martinez kicked the victim “with such force that it made me sick.”
But the statements Fleener made in front of two TV cameras and a small group of reporters outside of the Albany County Courthouse painted a different picture.
Fleener told the group those involved with the case were placed under a gag order Wednesday, but officials with the Albany County Courthouse later told the Star-Tribune that no order was issued on the case.
Fleener said he believes the understanding of the events are inaccurate.
“We do have the right to correct the record,” Fleener said. “The record has certainly indicated that Luke was the aggressor in this bar fight. We are clear the evidence, when it does come out, will show he was retreating and was not the aggressor at all.”
“Luke was out with a teammate,” Fleener added. “There were between five and seven 27-year old men that got into a bar fight. It happens.”
Martinez, shielded from the wind in a University of Wyoming jacket, also made his first public comments since his arrest.
“It’s been tough,” he said. “I’m just hoping for the best and keep praying. That’s it.”
Martinez declined to speak about how his indefinite suspension has affected his team (he averaged 14.5 points and three rebounds per game for the Cowboys before his arrest). But he did say he will not be participating in UW’s senior night Wednesday, a ceremony that will take place before the Cowboys play their final home game of the season against Colorado State.
Fleener declined to say if plea options have been discussed with prosecuting attorney Joshua Merseal. He said Martinez will likely testify in August, but he added that his goal is to find a resolution before that time.
“I hope this case resolves itself, and we don’t have to go to trial,” Fleener said. “No one wants a jury trial, neither the man who got hit, or Luke. Hopefully, we will be able to settle this mess. But, if not, I guess we will be going to trial in August.”
If found guilty, Martinez could face up to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.