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Man pleads not guilty to murder in Pacific Beach restroom stabbing; was newly out of prison

San Diego police investigate a fatal stabbing Aug. 16 inside a public restroom near the beach in Pacific Beach.
(Courtesy)

Martin Alvarez Jr., 33, is accused in the fatal Aug. 16 attack on Michael Wagley, 39.

A 33-year-old man accused of a “random act of murder” in the stabbing death of an apparent stranger in a Pacific Beach public bathroom was newly out of prison after state officials slashed several weeks from his time behind bars, a prosecutor told a San Diego judge Aug. 25.

Martin Alvarez Jr., who pleaded not guilty to murder in connection with the Aug. 16 attack on Michael Wagley, had been released from prison more than 80 days early and less than three weeks before the stabbing, Deputy District Attorney George Modlin said during Alvarez’s brief arraignment in San Diego County Superior Court.

As the state tries to stem the spread of COVID-19 inside prisons, officials have given early release to some qualifying inmates who have less than six months left on their sentence. Alvarez is among those inmates.

Martin Alvarez Jr.
(Courtesy)

Alvarez also is accused of using a knife to attack Wagley, 39, who police said had recently arrived in San Diego and had not found a place to live.

Modlin called the slaying a “random act of murder.” It happened about 7:30 p.m. in a public restroom by the beach at Grand Avenue and Ocean Boulevard, near the main lifeguard station in Pacific Beach.

Police suspect 33-year-old Martin Alvarez of fatally stabbing 39-year-old Michael Wagley on Aug. 16 in a restroom at Grand Avenue and Ocean Boulevard.

The prosecutor said the assailant walked into the bathroom and attacked Wagley from behind, stabbing his neck then throwing him to the ground, fracturing Wagley’s skull.

Once Wagley was down, the prosecutor said, the attacker stabbed Wagley “multiple times in the neck, having never met this victim and having no connection to this victim prior.”

In a news release last week, San Diego police homicide Lt. Andra Brown said police didn’t know what had preceded the stabbing. She also said several witnesses told police that the assailant left the scene on a bicycle immediately after the attack.

Police soon detained and interviewed Alvarez, who the lieutenant said matched the suspect’s description.

Alvarez’s defense attorney declined to comment after the court hearing, saying he was awaiting evidence from the prosecution.

According to the prosecutor, Alvarez had been sent to prison following a 2017 conviction for robbery and assault, a case that put a strike on his record.

He was released in March 2019 and returned to prison about six months later after a theft conviction.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which runs state prisons, said Alvarez had qualified for 84 days of credit during his second prison sentence. It came through a good-behavior program for inmates who had no rules violations between March 1 and July 5, a step to help reduce prison population in the time of COVID-19.

That credit put Alvarez’s potential release date in December 2020. And that qualified him for consideration for expedited release in another pandemic-related release program designed to create space inside the prisons for physical distancing and quarantining.

Alvarez was released July 30 to be supervised by the county’s Probation Department, the Department of Corrections said.

Modlin said that when Alvarez got out of prison, he failed to check in with the officers supervising his case.

Alvarez could face up to 56 years to life if convicted. He remains jailed without bail. A hearing to discuss setting a bail amount is slated for Monday, Aug. 31.


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