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Footprints in snow led to armed robbery conviction

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Nicholas Martinez had pulled off a string of armed robberies in South Toledo last winter when his footprints led police directly to him on a snowy January night.

Martinez, 23, of the 1000 block of Park Lane, on Wednesday entered Alford pleas — not admitting guilt — to five counts of aggravated robbery, three of which have firearm specifications attached. Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Gary Cook found Martinez guilty and told him he faces a maximum of 64 years in prison when he is sentenced Aug. 30.

RELATED: Arrest follows latest in string of pizza robberies

Lindsay Navarre, an assistant county prosecutor, told the court Martinez's crime spree began Dec. 8 with a holdup at Vito's Pizza, 4317 Heatherdowns Blvd. He then robbed three businesses on Jan. 5: Adams Pizza and Wings, 1032 N. Holland-Sylvania Rd.; the In and Out Mart, 2125 S. Byrne Rd., and Vito's Pizza, 2129 Reynolds Rd.

In each holdup, she said, Martinez wore a black neoprene face mask, brandished a handgun, and demanded cash.

Two days later, on Jan. 5, Martinez held up the Oasis, 2531 S. Reynolds Rd., where he fired a shot into the ceiling, Ms. Navarre said. Police responding to the robbery at the Oasis followed footprints in the snow to the nearby Motel 6 where they saw Martinez — loose cash falling out of his pockets — coming down the stairs to greet a woman who was getting dropped off at the motel.

Ms. Navarre said he was immediately taken into custody.

In addition to surveillance video and witness accounts, Ms. Navarre said police were able to connect Martinez to the first robbery at Vito's with DNA evidence.

“The observant employee behind the counter noticed that Martinez had a substantial amount of drool pooled around his mouth and the black mask and saw some of that drool drop to the floor during the robbery,” she told the court. “The floor of the store had just recently been mopped so the employee knew it to be clean. He protected the area until police arrived and informed officers of his observations.”

The saliva was collected, tested, and found to match Martinez, she said.

In 2014, Martinez pleaded guilty to abduction in Wood County Common Pleas Court for his role in what prosecutors said was an ill-fated plot to extort money from a University of Toledo student from China.

The victim was enticed with the promise of a trip to Cedar Point but instead was taken to a vacant house in Bowling Green, threatened with a knife, and robbed. A co-defendant, Hui Zhang, then contacted the victim's family in China saying their son had been kidnapped and needed $200,000.

Martinez was sentenced to three years in prison in that case but was granted an early release after serving less than a year in prison.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.

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