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Saturday, Jul 26 2008 12:28 AM

Criminal history of Martinez slaying suspect long and frightening

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    After continually disrupting court proceedings, Christopher Charles Lightsey was gagged in court, Aug. 15, 1995, during the sentencing phase of his murder trial for the killing of William Compton a 76-year-old cancer patient. He was sentenced to death.

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BY FELIX DOLIGOSA, Californian staff writerfdoligosa@bakersfield.com

Christopher Charles Lightsey’s criminal past isn’t going to help him if he ends up going to trial for killing 4-year-old Jessica Martinez.

Lightsey was convicted for molesting two girls and tried for inappropriately touching children at a grade school he taught. He was sent to death row for killing an elderly cancer patient by stabbing him 43 times.

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Bakersfield's memory of 4-year-old Jessica Martinezis still very strong and painful.

Jessica Martinez case time line

  • May 10, 1990: Jessica Martinez, 4, is reported missing while playing in a dirt area from 8:15 to 8:30 p.m. several feet away from her apartment at 5000 Belle Terrace. The search begins.
  • May 15, 1990: Police form an official task force to find Jessica after finding no trace of her anywhere.
  • May 20, 1990: “America's Most Wanted” airs on Fox featuring Jessica's disappearance. Police receive 58 calls about her, but the tips lead nowhere.
  • May 21, 1990: Jessica's decomposed body is found buried in a 56-acre cotton field at Bear Mountain Boulevard and Ashe Road when a worker on a tractor ran over her.
  • May 24, 1990: Hundreds crowded St. Francis Catholic Church to take part in a rosary for Jessica. Rosaries continue throughout the week.
  • May 25, 1990: Local merchants and residents band together to help run up reward money for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Jessica.
  • May 27, 1990: Fear spreads throughout Bakersfield neighborhoods as police continue to search for Jessica's killer, The Californianreports. Schools reinforce stranger avoidance. And families band together to organize neighborhood watch groups.
  • May 30, 1990: Hundreds pay final respects to Jessica.
  • July 1, 1990: A benefit concert is held to raise more money to help find Jessica's killer — thousands show up.
  • July 9, 1990: The coroner's office finishes its autopsy on Jessica and determine she was strangled before her body was dumped in the cotton field. Police could not determine if she was molested.
  • Oct. 25, 1990: A new witness comes forward describing two men she said she saw carry off Jessica from her neighborhood. It eventually leads nowhere.
  • Oct. 2, 2005: Bakersfield Police Department begins investigating the cold case on Jessica Martinez.
  • April 22, 2008: Kern County District Attorney officials say they found male and female DNA on Martinez’ shorts. They request a DNA sample from Lightsey. Results will take a few months.

Lightsey’s past told through court cases and people who knew him reveal the troubled life of a death row inmate who may have committed one of the most haunting unsolved slayings in Bakersfield.

He was recently named a suspect in the 1990 murder of Jessica and police are waiting for a DNA test that may link Lightsey to evidence found on the victim’s shorts.

“Christopher Lightsey is a scary person,” said prosecutor Lisa Green who argued against Lightsey in the death penalty case. “He is not nice.”

Several of Lightsey’s family members and friends declined to be interviewed for this story. Lightsey has not yet responded to a letter written to him at San Quentin State Prison.


Lightsey was born March 30, 1955 and was raised with five siblings in Bakersfield, according to court documents. He attended St. Francis grade school and Garces High School.

April Swisshelm, a former neighbor of Lightsey, said her daughters used to complain that Lightsey harassed them at Garces.

“He really tormented the lives of me and my children,” Swisshelm said. “It was an awful experience.”

Lightsey later attended Bakersfield College and California State University, Bakersfield, where he graduated with a degree in business and public administration.

His home life was shaken in 1978 when his father committed suicide.

Lightsey found his father’s body, according to published reports.

“I was heartbroken,” Lightsey said in court in 1995. “I lost my best friend.”


When he wasn’t working as a substitute school teacher or as a Texaco and Chevron oil company office worker, Lightsey served time for several drug offenses, according to court documents.

In 1976, Lightsey was convicted for possession of drugs for sale. Ten years later, he was convicted for possessing cocaine, according to published reports.

Lightsey faced more severe charges in 1989 when he was arrested and accused of fondling eight students at Our Lady of Guadalupe School, where he was a substitute.

The second-grade students testified Lightsey touched them on their bottoms.

Lightsey had a second trial that year when Lightsey’s then-girlfriend said he inappropriately touched her 5-year-old daughter. All charges were dismissed.

In 1990, Lightsey moved into the Timber Cove apartment complex, the same place where Jessica Martinez lived, according to a search warrant.

When Jessica was reported missing from her home on May 10, friends said Lightsey was gone up to three hours that evening at roughly the same time she disappeared. He told them he went out to buy beer for a party.

Police then interviewed Lightsey, but made no arrests.

In 1993, Lightsey was accused of touching a 4-year-old girl under her pants and repeatedly touching the bottom of the 10-year-old daughter of his then-girlfriend, according to court documents. The younger child’s family lived next door to Lightsey.

Lightsey pleaded no contest to the molestation charges and was sentenced to three years in prison.


More trouble soon followed Lightsey.

On July 7, 1993, Lightsey stabbed William George Compton, a cancer patient, in Compton’s home in the 400 block of Holtby Road.

He was 76.

Lightsey stole Compton’s gun collection. Police traced Lightsey to the murder when Compton’s rifle ended up at a pawn shop.

During the trial, the judge repeatedly threatened to remove Lightsey from the courtroom if he did not calm down. Lightsey yelled obscenities and made obscene gestures at prosecutor Lisa Green.

“He was hard to ignore,” she said.

Evaluators on the case said Lightsey possessed a “narcissistic personality disorder” and “bipolar disorder, manic type,” according to court documents.

Lightsey was sentenced to death in 1995 for killing Compton.

“I did not kill anybody! This is a fraud!” Lightsey said at his conviction.

He was then gagged with duct tape and a wad of gauze during the hearing. Lightsey is the first defendant in Kern County to ever be gagged in the courtroom.

“All murderers in my mind are psychopaths,” Green said. “He (Lightsey) certainly fits that bill.”

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