Murder Prosecutor in Martzen Case Changes Sides

FRESNO, Calif.

The case is scheduled to go to trial in a couple months. Megan Martzen is accused of killing a 17-month-old girl she was babysitting. But now, the prosecutor on the case is leaving the district attorney's office.

Burton Francis spent almost two years working on the Martzen case, but he retired last week after all prosecutors got hit with a big pay cut from the county. He's still looking for a landing spot, but he's planning to work -- at least part-time -- for the defense attorney in the Martzen case.

Francis spent 24 years as a Fresno County prosecutor -- taking on cases of sexual assault, juvenile crimes, and lastly, murders.

Among his high profile cases, Francis put the so-called PlayStation killer, Jonquel Brooks, behind bars for life in 2009.

For the last two years, he's been prosecuting Megan Martzen, accused of killing 17-month-old Ella van Leeuwen while babysitting the little girl. But after the Fresno County Board of Supervisors cut his pay by 11.5% last month, and facing a possible cut to his pension, Francis decided it was time to retire.

"When the county chooses to pay their district attorneys less than public defenders, well, that's insulting to any notion of regard for public safety," he said.

Francis is not alone in that sentiment and the prosecutors' union has filed a formal complaint against the county. But where the former prosecutor is going to work next has raised some eyebrows. He's planning to take some cases from Jeff Hammerschmidt, the defense attorney in the Martzen case.

ABC30 legal analyst Tony Capozzi says the move is problematic. While prosecutors are legally required to turn over all their evidence to the defense, Capozzi says Francis probably has information Hammerschmidt doesn't know yet.

"When you're preparing your case, you're talking to the witnesses," Capozzi said. "You know their foibles. You know where they may lack some credibility, or they may have areas where they would fall down."

Capozzi says the relationship between Francis and Hammerschmidt will be heavily scrutinized. But Francis says the Martzen case will never come up.

"You can call it a firewall," Francis said. "There's simply not going to be any discussion about the case between me and anyone associated with him."

Action News talked to Ella van Leeuwen's father about Francis' move. He said it makes him a little uncomfortable, but he trusts Francis to do the right thing.

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