Illegal immigrant pleads not guilty in rape, fatal hammer attack on Air Force veteran

An illegal immigrant from Mexico accused of murder in the rape and torture death of a California Air Force veteran entered a not-guilty plea Thursday in a Santa Maria courtroom.

Victor Aureliano Martinez, 29, who is here illegally and had racked up several arrests and jail time before the July 24 attack on Marilyn Pharis, 64, entered the plea i a brief appearance. He'll be back in court Sept. 17 for the purpose of setting a preliminary hearing, where a judge decides whether there's enough evidence to hold a trial.

That same day, the other man in custody over the killing, Jose Fernando Villagomez, 20, who did not enter a plea, will be back in court to do so.

Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley has not decided whether she would seek the death penalty in this case, telling the Santa Barbara News-Press that she may wait until after the preliminary hearings have concluded to make that call.

Meanwhile, at least 50 Tea Party followers from the Central Coast were outside the courtroom for a lunchtime demonstration in support of Pharis and to urge passage of Kate's Law, a federal act that would, upon conviction, impose a five-year federal prison sentence on illegals who are deported from the United States and return.

It's named for Kate Steinle, a woman killed in San Francisco allegedly by a man who was in this country illegally.

Steve Thomas, president of the Santa Barbara Tea Party, told the News-Press, "We're also protesting President Obama's policy of not deporting illegal aliens."