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Prosecutors: Man killed ex-girlfriend at Belmont Park after breakup

Belmont Race track gate 6 entrance on Monday,

Belmont Race track gate 6 entrance on Monday, June 18, 2018 in Elmont. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A former Belmont Park worker was so angry at his ex-girlfriend after she ended their relationship that he traveled halfway across the country to stab her to death, prosecutors said Thursday.

Jose Franco-Martinez, 54, pleaded not guilty to murder at his arraignment Thursday, which took place in the psychiatric unit at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow. Officials said he has been held there since his arrest on June 17 in connection with the death of Maria Larin, 51, of Elmont.

A Nassau County grand jury indicted Franco-Martinez on July 5.

In a sparse room adjacent to the psychiatric ward, court staff, lawyers, and state Supreme Court Justice Angelo Delligatti assembled Thursday and waited for Franco-Martinez to be brought in for the formal reading of the charges. A Spanish-speaking translator was also present.

As Franco-Martinez sat in a chair, his hands folded across his chest, a court clerk read the charges levied against him: one count of second-degree murder with intent to cause Larin’s death and one count of criminal possession of a weapon in the fourth degree.

“How do you plea?” the court clerk asked Franco-Martinez. “Guilty or not guilty.”

“Not guilty,” the translator said, relating defendant’s reply to the court.

Prosecutors did not provide details of the murder at the arraignment, but in a news release issued after the hearing, they alleged that Franco-Martinez, who was working in Kansas, paid an acquaintance on June 16 to drive him to New York. They said Franco-Martinez came with the intention of killing Larin, who worked at the racetrack as a hot walker — someone who helps horses cool down after racing or exercising by walking them.

Franco-Martinez, who previously worked as a hot walker at Belmont, allegedly became angry with Larin after she ended their romantic relationship, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a news release.

Larin was working inside Barn 61 when prosecutors said Franco-Martinez approached her and stabbed her “multiple” times with a kitchen knife. Another Belmont worker saw the attack, prosecutors said, and struck Franco-Martinez in the head with a shovel, but he managed to run away.

Franco-Martinez threw the knife into the bushes as he fled and was captured after a brief chase, prosecutors said. The silver kitchen knife was recovered in the bushes on the grounds of Belmont, but prosecutors did not say whether Larin’s blood or Franco-Martinez’s blood was found on the weapon.

Franco-Martinez’s attorney, Dana Grossblatt of Jericho, declined to comment on the new details.

On Thursday, Delligatti ordered Franco-Martinez held without bail but allowed Grossblatt more time to make the case as to why her client should be released on bail.

“Mr. Franco-Martinez is having difficulty understanding the proceedings. He remains hospitalized and my office is working closely with a doctor to determine the status of his mental health,” Grossblatt said.

If convicted, Franco-Martinez could face 25 years to life in prison.

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