This story was originally published in the Fayetteville Observer.
A California congresswoman has introduced a bill named after a Fort Bragg soldier whose severed head was found washed up on the North Carolina coast in 2020.
The Enrique Roman-Martinez Military Cold Case Justice Act of 2022 would create uniform standards for military cold cases and establishes procedures should an investigator leave the case.
Spc. Roman-Martinez, 21, of Chino, California, was reported missing May 23, 2020, at Cape Lookout National Seashore in Carteret County by fellow Fort Bragg soldiers.
His partial remains washed ashore six days later. His body has never been found.
Roman-Martinez was last seen alive the day before he was reported missing while camping with seven other soldiers assigned to his unit, Headquarters Company, 37th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.
The bill named after him was introduced in November by Rep. Norma Torres, D-California.
Roman-Martinez’s family lives in Torres’ congressional district.
Torres has been in contact with Roman-Martinez’s family since his death and was with them when his partial remains were flown back to California.
“Spc. Roman-Martinez and his family deserve justice for his murder, and it is an outrage that after two years of investigations we still have no answers in his case,” Torres said in a Nov. 11 news release.
The investigation is no longer active unless any new credible leads come up, a spokesman for the Army Criminal Investigation Command said last November.
No one has been charged in his death which has been classified as a homicide.
A $50,000 reward for information about Roman-Martinez’s case remains active.
What the bill would do
Torres said as a mother of an Air Force veteran and a U.S. representative, she refuses to accept “failure by the Army to provide justice for Roman-Martinez and his family.”
“Military investigators need established processes and procedures for cold cases, including a process for independent review, when necessary,” Torres said. “Without them, investigators cannot be held accountable for failing to move forward with cases like these, and I will do all I can to ensure no military family in the United States has to wait for justice or answers.”
The bill directs the secretary of defense “to develop and implement uniform standards for the treatment of cold cases by military criminal investigative organizations.”
Specifically, the bills requests that the secretary of the Army develop a report for Congress to establish a cold case unit in the Army Criminal Investigation Division similar to cold case units for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations
It additionally requires officials to “specify the circumstances,” under which a case is referred to the Inspector General of the Department of Defense for review and would establish procedures for transferring the case to a new investigator if the initial investigator transfers or leaves the organization.
Roman-Martinez’s sister, Griselda Martinez, has said that the family is not satisfied with the Army’s handling of her brother’s case.
She said though investigators told the family they found no evidence in the case, it took three days for an official search for her brother to be launched and that rain during those three days possibly destroyed evidence.
An August 2021 news release stated that Army CID special agents coordinated with multiple national, state and local agencies on the case, along with the 82nd Airborne Division.
According to the news release, a specialized task force comprised of CID agents, FBI employees and the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit has executed more than 100 warrants and subpoenas, conducted more than 400 interviews and returned to the island seven times to conduct air, land and sea searches for additional evidence.
There have been searches of evidence from cellphones and vehicles along with more than 130 items analyzed.
None of the items revealed any trace of blood, DNA, or other forensic evidence, the CID news release stated.
During a June court-martial of one of the soldiers who last saw Roman-Martinez alive, Griselda Martinez said that the family wasn’t originally told about lying and conspiracy charges brought against the seven soldiers who last saw her brother alive.
Cases of soldiers who last saw Roman-Martinez alive
Martinez said she learned more about the investigation into her brother’s death from the court proceedings against his fellow soldiers than the family was ever told by investigators.
An example, she said, is that she learned in court that the soldiers on the trip with her brother were allowed to talk to each other for several months before an order was issued that they do not talk to each other.
Spc. Alex Becerra, who called 911 to report Roman-Martinez missing at Cape Lookout National Seashore in Carteret County, pleaded guilty in June to using LSD, a hallucinogenic drug, and disobeying a superior officer and was ordered to be demoted to the rank of private.
Becerra and other soldiers on the trip were accused of omitting the presence of Becerra’s girlfriend at the time, Pvt. Annamarie Cochell, from being on the trip.
Becerra alleged that Cochell was caught underage drinking months prior to the camping trip and he didn’t want her to get in further trouble.
Sgt. Samuel Moore, one of the soldiers who last saw Roman-Martinez alive, pleaded guilty July 15 to one count of conspiracy and two counts of providing a false statement in the investigation into Roman-Martinez’s disappearance.
According to court records, Moore made a false statement to investigators by saying that some of the soldiers Roman-Martinez was camping with left the island at 2 a.m. to catch a ferry at 8 a.m., but Moore omitted the presence of Cochell, whose name is redacted from the charge sheet.
Moore was reduced in rank to specialist and forfeited two-thirds of his pay for one month.
Spc. Joshua Curry pleaded guilty Aug. 3 to one count of failure to obey a lawful order and one count of dereliction of duty.
Curty was sentenced to a reduction in rank to a private for class and confinement for 10 days.
Becerra testified during his court martial that he defied the no-contact order by speaking to Cochell because she was his girlfriend and speaking to Curry because he was his friend for several years. He denied ever speaking with either about the investigation.
Cochell and Pfc. Samad Landrum were granted immunity in exchange for their testimony at Becerra’s court-martial. Each admitted in advance of their testimony that the deal they made included just 30 days of confinement and that the charges wouldn’t be reflected in their records.
Cochell’s and Landrum’s separate court-martials are Jan. 17-20.
Other soldiers on the trip include Spcs. Juan Avila, whose arraignment is Jan. 24, and Benjamin E. Sibley, whose court-martial is Nov. 30-Dec. 1.
Special Agent Steve Chancellor, who led the Army’s probe into Roman-Martinez’s death, testified in June that by April 2021, four of the seven soldiers who last saw Roman-Martinez alive were eliminated as “persons of interest.
“We really didn’t feel strongly on any of them,” he said.
Rep. Torres told The Fayetteville Observer in November 2021 that Roman-Martinz’s case was riddled with issues including delays in declaring him a missing person and how long it took before divers searched for the rest of his remains.
Authorities announced in December 2020 — nearly seven months after Roman-Martinez’s head was found — that divers were searching waters for evidence and the rest of the remains.
“He was such a good person, so loving and so caring, and to think that someone cut off his head and hated him that much — I think that’s the part that hurts us all. They didn’t have to do that ..,” Griselda Martinez said a year after her brother’s death. “I wish we could have had a funeral that had the option of the open casket so we could say our goodbye. There was no last goodbye.”
Anyone with information about Roman-Martinez’s death is asked to contact Army special agents at 910-396-8777 or the Military Police Desk at 910-396-1179. They can also anonymously submit information to the Army CID’s website at cid.army.mil/report-a-crime.html.
Observer Staff writer Rachael Riley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-486-3528.