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Officials: Suspect in Belmont Park killing arraigned in psych ward

Jose Franco-Martinez, 53, will be arraigned "when medically

Jose Franco-Martinez, 53, will be arraigned "when medically practical" on a second-degree murder charge, police said. Credit: NCPD

The ex-boyfriend of a Belmont Park worker found stabbed in a backstretch barn was arraigned in a hospital psychiatric ward Monday in connection with the woman’s death, officials said.

Nassau police arrested Jose Franco-Martinez, 53, early Sunday not long after Belmont security officers found the critically wounded victim, Maria Larin, 51, of Elmont. Larin was later pronounced dead at a hospital, police said Sunday.

Franco-Martinez intended to kill Larin, authorities said Monday.

Behind locked doors at the Nassau University Medical Center psychiatric ward, Franco-Martinez pleaded not guilty to a count of second-degree murder before Nassau District Court Judge Paul Meli, officials said. Franco-Martinez was admitted to the hospital after his arrest.

The judge ordered Franco-Martinez — who police said is homeless — held without bail while he awaits trial.

Meli barred reporters from the court proceeding, citing “logistical and privacy concerns,” but the judge did not elaborate. Typically, a defendant is arraigned in a courthouse, which is open to the public.

Along with a court officer and a stenographer, others at the hospital arraignment included Nassau Assistant District Attorney Stefanie Palma and a Spanish-language interpreter for Franco-Martinez, officials said.

An attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Nassau County, who represented Franco-Martinez Monday, declined to comment after the hearing.

Meanwhile, the New York Racing Association, which had declined to comment Sunday, offered its condolences to Larin’s families and friends Monday.

“We stand behind the entire Belmont Park community to mourn this tragic loss,” Chris Kay, NYRA’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

The association is working with various groups to provide additional services and counseling to those who need support, Kay said.

Nassau police responded to a 911 call just after 6 a.m. Sunday reporting an injured woman at Belmont Park after an NYRA security official saw a loose horse on the grounds, Nassau police said.

The horse was caught and officials investigated a rear barn area, where they found the woman, later identified as Larin, who worked as a hot walker. Hot walkers hand walk thoroughbreds after a workout to cool them down.

According to Nassau Homicide Chief Det. Lt. Stephen Fitzpatrick, Franco-Martinez was found during a search of the racetrack grounds.

“This is a targeted incident,” Fitzpatrick said Sunday at an afternoon news conference at the Elmont racetrack.

On Monday, police would not explain how Franco-Martinez may have slipped past security. They are still investigating where he entered Belmont, they said Tuesday.

Police recovered the weapon Franco-Martinez allegedly used to stab Larin, but they provided no additional details Tuesday.

Larin was stabbed “numerous” times to the upper part of her body, police said.

The storied racetrack was closed for racing Monday. On Sunday, a full day of races went on without interruption.

Enrique Garcia, 40, who exercises horses at the racetrack, said Sunday the victim was well-liked.

“She talked to everybody,” Garcia said.

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