By Verna Gates
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (Reuters) - A self-styled collector for a Mexican drug cartel who confessed to more than 30 murders after he was arrested last month saw himself as a person who cleansed the world of bad and abusive people, the investigator in the case said on Friday.
California native Jose Manuel Martinez, 52, was arrested by U.S. border police in western Arizona last month after a records check showed that he was wanted on a homicide charge in Lawrence County in Alabama.
After being returned to Alabama, Martinez was charged June 3 with killing Jose Ruiz, a man who allegedly "disrespected" his daughter, Tim McWhorter, captain of the investigation division at the Lawrence County Sheriff's Office.
During a two-hour interview in custody, Martinez appeared to take a professional pride in the killings that he felt would one day catch up with him.
"He was good at what he did and this was his shining moment. It was quite shocking. He said he expected the murders to catch up with him someday," McWhorter, who coaxed the surprise confession out of Martinez, told Reuters.
"He rationalized his actions as ‘This is my job and I don't kill innocent people,'" he said.
It is unclear if Martinez' confession to dozens of murders is true. So far, investigators in Florida have linked Martinez to three murders, while police in California suspect him in the killings of 10 other people, McWhorter said.
Martinez said he killed Ruiz after he had called his daughter a bad person and a bad mother, said McWhorter.
Martinez is charged with felony murder, and if convicted faces a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Once his trial is completed, California and Florida have the option of trying him separately.
Martinez, who told investigators he was a debt collector for a Mexican drug cartel, gave the impression of being a likeable person with a sense of humor who is not physically intimidating.
"He has dark eyes and a real cold stare that if looks could kill ... it shows his dark side," said McWhorter.
Ruiz, 32, was killed execution style March 4th. While Martinez was questioned at the time about the crime, there was not sufficient evidence to connect him to the murder.
When enough evidence was gathered, a warrant led to his arrest after he entered the United States from Mexico near Yuma, Arizona.
The suspect's daughter, who McWhorter did not name, is horrified that her father turned out to be a serial killer and has confessed to murdering Ruiz, who she knew. Martinez and his daughter had been estranged for a number of years, according to McWhorter.
"She knew he had an evil streak, but never to this extent," said McWhorter.
Rural Lawrence County normally investigates one murder a year, according to McWhorter.
(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Eric Walsh)