Joshua Michael Martin: Cop killer
Joshua Michael Martin walks to the interview room at Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater, hands clasped behind his back. The barred gate to the main part of the prison crashes closed behind him.
Thin, pale, and goateed, Martin looks about a foot shorter than most of the guards waiting for him on the other side of the bars. He walks past another inmate murmuring scripture with a pastor and sits at a table lit starkly.
Though he was just transferred to Stillwater two weeks ago, his reputation preceded him.
"Everybody knows who I am," he says. "'He a cop killer.' I don't like being introduced like that."
Dressed in cream-colored thermal and gray sweatpants, the 22-year-old has barely begun his 35-year prison sentence. He still can't explain what led to the horrifically violent events of May 1, 2010. By the end of that day, Maplewood Police Sergeant Joe Bergeron was dead. Jason Jones, the man who shot Bergeron, was too.
Six months after the murder, as the only man to walk away from the scene, he is left to bear the weight of an entire city's shock and anger.
There are those who think he got what he deserved, others who think he should never see the light of day again.
No matter what side they fall on, they all call him the same thing.
"I'm not a cop killer. I'm a human being," he insists over and over. "For you to label someone like that—it's pretty intense. I don't like it."
MARTIN SMOKED HIS first joint when he was 12. Before long he was running around with older members of the Gangster Disciples in east St. Paul, dealing weed, crack, cocaine. He got older and graduated to robbery.
"It was adrenaline," he says. "I liked the way it made me feel."
There wasn't much keeping Martin in check. His biological father popped in and out when he wasn't lost in his alcoholism. His stepfather turned mean when he was smoking meth and pushed Martin around while his mom was at work.
In the neighborhood, Martin met Jason Jones, a slightly younger boy, thin like Martin and dealing with many of the same problems. His parents had disappeared into their own addictions, and Jones was living with an aunt. Martin calls their bond a brotherhood.
His time at Central High School earned him the nickname "Lazy," but his teachers remember Martin as a decent student—sometimes disruptive but never violent. Jones was angrier, more likely to get into a fistfight, but still a wiz at math.
"They were silly, normal teenagers," remembers Tonnia Mortenson, a teacher at Central.
Jail time pulled them in and out of one each other's lives. When Martin was 17, he was sent to a juvenile correctional facility for a stickup with a $6 payout. In 2007, he was sent away again for robbing a pizza deliveryman. He was required to complete a religious-based treatment program in lieu of prison. He emerged singing the praises of his "walk with God."
He got out in November 2009 and worked construction. He washed dishes at Hell's Kitchen and wanted to enroll in culinary school. Through his newfound faith, he reconnected with his father and stepfather. It seemed like a fresh start.
FIVE MONTHS LATER, he got the call.
"It's all bad," said Jones on the other end of the phone.
Jones was on intensive supervised release for a bungled robbery—he'd shot his victim and his accomplice. Jones was living at a halfway house in east St. Paul and missed his curfew after hanging out late at a music studio. Instead of going back, he called Martin.
"What older brother wouldn't help his little brother out?" Martin asks.
He brought Jones to help him on contracting jobs. They hung out with Martin's mother. They partied at Martin's east St. Paul apartment, talked about music and fantasized about making it big as rappers.
"Nothing but good times, that's how it was," Martin says.
As the month came to a close, he and Jones decided to go on a road trip to Florida. They'd make a demo CD, see if it got any traction in Orlando. They even had a name for their rap group: Blood Brothers.
It was decided: They'd leave on May 1.
THE NIGHT BEFORE, they stayed up all night drinking, smoking weed, and recording songs for the road on a cell phone. When day broke, they walked toward Little Canada, where they were supposed to buy the car that would take them to Florida.
At a Corner Gas on Larpenteur Avenue, they bought Mountain Dews. When they came out, they saw Cee Lee.
Martin and Jones forced their way into his car at gunpoint and made Lee drive to his house in Maplewood. When a woman answered the door, he suddenly bolted, screaming he was being kidnapped.
Martin and Jones ran the other way, until they reached the entrance to Bruce Vento Trail. Thinking they were safe, they started walking.
A squad car pulled up alongside them. It was Sgt. Bergeron responding to a report of a carjacking. It wasn't hard to pick Martin and Jones out. He called them over.
Martin approached the car and Jones came up behind him. Jones leveled his gun at Bergeron and shot him in the head, point blank.
As Martin stared at Bergeron slumped dead, he knew there was no turning back.
"It just happened so fast," he says. "I knew from that point I was screwed."
AT HIS MOTHER'S apartment a short time later, Martin paced the carpeted floor, wrestling with a decision. Maybe he should skip town, go to Arizona to hide out with his stepdad. His mother, still in her pajamas, argued he should turn himself in.
His cell phone rang. Jason Jones was dead, a friend told him.
Sprinting from the grisly scene, Jones had gone one way, Martin the other. While Martin managed to get out of the area, Jones became ensnared in the police perimeter. After hiding for several hours, Jones had tried to walk past a cop holding the line. When the officer asked him to stop, Jones lunged, smashing him in the face with a huge metal bolt. The two struggled for the cop's gun, until the police officer managed to squeeze off several rounds. Jones fell and died in the street.
Martin fell apart. Between furious sobs, he repeated, "That's my brother."
Martin called his stepfather to ask what he should do. Instead of helping him skip town, his stepfather called a friend, a St. Paul police officer, and told him where Martin was. Soon the cops were calling on Martin's cell, telling him to turn himself in.
Instead, Martin hugged his mother and walked out her front door, right past the squad cars that were just screeching up. A friend picked him up at Selby and Western, and drove him to an East Side apartment.
Locked inside his friend's apartment bathroom, Martin lit up a spliff. The cops, he knew, were tracking his cell phone and closing in.
"If I was going to die, I was going to die high," he says with a dry laugh.
He dragged the blade of a steak knife down his wrists until the blood ran down his hands.
His cell rang again—it was his stepfather's friend, the cop.
"He knows my family. He started talking about kids," says Martin.
Swayed by thoughts of his two young sons and his mom, Martin agreed to turn himself in.
"Some days I wish they had killed me," he says.
The case was resolved swiftly with a plea deal. Martin appeared three times, his side of the courtroom nearly empty, the other side packed.
"Put this monster away from us for as long as time will allow," one of Bergeron's nephews told the judge during sentencing.
IN HIS NEW home in Stillwater, Martin has discovered an unexpected side to his notoriety—fans.
"A couple guys thanked me," he says. "They shook my hand and said, 'Thank you.' I don't think it's nothing to be proud of."
After the interview, he stands and walks through the gate accompanied by a guard, his eyes on the floor. He'll spend the rest of his day in his cell. He's hoping for a job working in the kitchen—an attempt to rekindle that lost dream of cooking school.
Nevertheless, Martin's vision of his future is as bleak as his current surroundings.
"It's going to be hard when I get out—a cop killer," he says. "Who's going to hire somebody that killed a cop?"
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