Alleged cartel hit man returned to Central California to face 9 murder counts

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TULARE, California — Authorities say a suspected contract killer charged with slayings across the country has pleaded not guilty to committing nine murders in California.

Tulare County Assistant District Attorney Anthony Fultz said Friday that 51-year-old Jose Manuel Martinez appeared in a California courtroom for the first time after being transferred from Alabama, where he pleaded guilty in June to one murder for a 50-year sentence. He's also accused of two Florida slayings.

Prosecutors in California say that between 1980 and 2011, Martinez killed nine people in Tulare, Kern and Santa Barbara counties; the charges make Martinez eligible for the death sentence.

Police say Martinez claimed to be a contract killer for drug cartels who has killed dozens of people in several states.

An attorney representing Martinez could not be reached Friday for comment.

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