Family Shot: A public GoFundMe site contained this undated picture of the Romero family. The site was set up by a family member and shows Martin Romero and his children. Photo: GoFundMe Romero Family Funeral and Medical Fund.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

‘No winners in this case’ — Gwinnett mother pleads to killing family

She once seemed like a doting mother. Neighbors remember her hosting cookouts after church, bouncing a baby on her hip as she chatted with friends.

Then Isabel Martinez snapped. She’d struggled with mental illness in the past but after her father’s death two years ago, something inside her came apart. One morning in July 2017, Martinez fatally stabbed her husband and four of her children, then dialed 911.

This week, she pleaded guilty but mentally ill.

“There was no way she wasn’t going to be found guilty of these murders,” Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter said Wednesday. “I believe guilty but mentally ill was the best outcome we could get.”

Martinez, 35, isn’t eligible for parole for at least 30 years, possibly longer given the many crimes she pleaded guilty to. In the unlikely event she ever leaves confinement, she will be deported back to her native Mexico, Porter said.

Isabel Martinez gestures towards news cameras during her first court appearance Friday, July 7, 2017, in Lawrenceville , Ga. Martinez is charged with killing four of her children and their father. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Following her pleas, entered Tuesday evening, Martinez will be referred to a state facility where she’ll receive mental health treatment and evaluation.

“She may never get out of that,” Porter said.

Had the case gone to trial, jurors would have heard horrific details. Investigators responding to the scene found the bodies of Martin Romero, 33, and four children: 2-year-old Axel, 4-year-old Dillan, 7-year-old Dacota and 10-year-old Isabela Martinez.

Martinez’ daughter Diana, then 9, was seriously injured but survived. She told investigators her mother told her she was “going to the sky to see Jesus.” Diana now lives with other relatives.

Diana Romero holds gifts given to her by Gwinnett County Sheriff's deputies. The girl's mother, Isabel Martinez, stabbed Diana's dad and four siblings.
Photo: Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office

Several family members were in the courtroom to witness Martinez’ guilty pleas. None spoke. The morning after her arrest, her mental health already appeared to be an issue. She smiled at television cameras and flashed a double “thumbs up” during initial court proceedings.

Martinez has schizophrenia, and her mental health kept prosecutors from seeking the death penalty, Porter said.

Steven Gaskell, a forensic psychologist with offices in Illinois and Atlanta, said Martinez wasn’t a cold-blooded killer but propelled by mental illness.

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“What does she have to gain from killing them all? Probably nothing,” said Gaskell, who was not involved with the case. “A logical reason would be she was having delusions.”

Still, Martinez appeared to know what she was doing, Gaskell said. She called police and concocted a story, initially blaming someone else for her actions. That indicates she understood she had done something wrong, he said.

“It’s really hard to meet the criteria for ‘not guilty by reason of insanity,’” Gaskell said.

Prosecutor Richard Vandever called it one of the toughest cases he’s ever worked.

“There are no winners in this case,” he said. “There are none.”

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