Martinson plea deal: Adequate provocation was key
Plea deal document reveals facts surrounding life in the Ayers house prior to murders
By Eileen Persike
Thomas and Jennifer Ayers and their family of four girls kept to themselves in their rural home near Rhinelander where they moved the summer of 2014. So much to themselves that the community only came to know them after they were killed by Jennifer’s teenage daughter, Ashlee Martinson Mar. 7, 2015. While not well known, their loss was mourned throughout the Northwoods along with the futures of their three orphaned daughters. The crime quickly gained national attention while rumors swirled; as an ongoing investigation there were very few facts revealed about this tragic family.
Fast forward one year. A history of events leading up to the murders is released in the form of a 26-page attachment to a plea deal. It paints a picture of life in the Ayers house that few in the community could possibly have imagined. In the words of Oneida County Judge Michael Bloom, the attachment lays out a “relatively extraordinary series” of abuses.
Ashlee Martinson was originally charged in April, 2015, with two counts of first degree intentional homicide in the deaths of Jennifer Ayers and Thomas Ayers. According to Wisconsin law, for a conviction of first degree intentional homicide the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant caused the death of the victims, acted with intent to kill and did not act under the influence of adequate provocation. “Adequate provocation” means sufficient provocation to cause complete loss of control in an ordinary person. In the plea agreement presented Mar. 11, the State reduced the charges to second degree intentional homicide, conceding that the homicides of Jennifer Ayers and Thomas Ayers were caused under the influence of adequate provocation. Three counts of false imprisonment were dismissed.
“I cannot imagine a person of conscience reviewing the facts…and not feeling some degree of sympathy…for the circumstances that this defendant found herself in…”
-Oneida County Circuit Judge Michael Bloom
Before accepting Martinson’s plea, Bloom spoke to the arrangement and the findings included in the attachment.
“The facts outlined in the attachment set forth a lengthy series of events describing abusive behavior by the defendant’s step father, Thomas Ayers, perpetrated against a variety of individuals including ex-spouses of Thomas Ayers, against Jennifer Ayers, the defendant’s mother, as well as physical abuse of the defendant’s younger siblings in the household,” Bloom said during Martinson’s court appearance. “And while the facts do not describe physical or sexual abuse committed by Thomas Ayers against the defendant, the facts described do describe mental abuse including the harming of animals and the discharging of firearms in the presence of the defendant by Thomas Ayers.”
Despite the enormity of the offenses, Bloom said the circumstances described are extraordinarily awful.
“I cannot imagine a person of conscience reviewing the facts set forth in the attachment and not feeling some degree of sympathy if not a high degree of sympathy for the circumstances that this defendant found herself in before and at the time of the crimes committed at this case,” Bloom concluded before accepting the pleas of guilty to the reduced charges.
Oneida County District Attorney Michael Schiek is recommending a sentence of 40 years confinement; 20 years for each homicide. The defense is recommending a total of eight years initial confinement, four years for count one and four years for count two, followed by 30 years extended supervision. Judge Bloom will make his sentencing decision following a hearing scheduled for June 17, 2016.
Facts in the case:
- Jennifer Ayers was sexually abused by biological father; entered series of abusive relationships. Began abusing children after marriage to Thomas Ayers.
- Thomas Ayers had history of abuse to domestic partners, wives, children and stepchildren; numerous arrests and convictions including battery, victim intimidation and sexual assault of a child under age 15. Began abusing Jennifer Ayers shortly after marriage.
- Ashlee Martinson was physically and sexually abused by mother’s live-in partner; verbally and mentally abused by Thomas Ayers; witnessed abuse against mother, stepsisters, half-sister, animals by Thomas Ayers.
- Doctors said Martinson suffered from PTSD; depression from young age.