Ex-wife turns in suspect in death of woman found at casino

April 26, 2013 (CROWN POINT, Ind.)

Ralph Martinez, 57, of Alsip, Ill., tried to tell the judge that he was innocent.

On Thursday, prosecutors officially charged him with murder, robbery and criminal confinement in the kidnapping of prominent Griffith business owner Mary Austgen, 76, of St. John, Ind. Her body was found in a casino parking lot last month.

Martinez tried to tell the judge twice that he was not guilty. She shushed him and told him that the hearing was only an opportunity for him to hear the formal charges. He did not qualify for a public defender after telling the judge that he owned a $50,000 truck and a BMW.

Martinez's own family helped police solve the case after they saw surveillance pictures of him at the victim's business on the news. Court records say Austgen had evicted Martinez from a garage he rented from her.

In Indiana, a murder suspect cannot qualify for bail or bond unless they go to a special hearing.

The Lake County prosecutor's office filled charges of murder, felony murder, robbery and criminal confinement against Martinez Thursday in connection with the March 28 death of Austgen.

Austgen was kidnapped at gunpoint from her family business in Griffith, about five miles south of Gary. Her body was found in her car March 29 in a parking garage at Gary's Majestic Star Casino. Police say she'd been shot in the abdomen.

An affidavit filed in Lake Superior Court in Crown Point says Martinez's ex-wife identified him to Alsip police after she saw a photograph of the abductor.

Martinez and his ex have three children; one of the daughters said they are "very sorry," and that they have the deepest sympathy for Mary Augsten's family. They also said, "We commend our mother for making this courageous decision. While we cooperate with the authorities, we continue to love and support our father."

"With additional leads generated by the recent media exposure, Martinez became prime suspect leading to the warrant and search of his residence and the subsequent arrest and charges," said Griffith Police Chief Greg Mance.

Some of Austgen's loved ones were in Griffith when the charges were announced.

"We're elated," said Jeff Austgen, the victim's son. "We've had a lot of emotions the last several days. One minute we're glad he's been apprehended, the next minute it doesn't change what has happened."

Police say Martinez is the man seen entering Austgen's business in Griffith at 2:42 p.m., March 28th. Court records state Austgen was about to leave at 5:07 p.m. The suspect grabbed her, she fell, and he pointed a gun at her. They went to her office, and left the building at 5:36 p.m. A cell phone light is seen in the pictures. Police say Martinez's cell phone records place his phone at the business and Majestic Star Casino, where Austgen's body was found the next day.

A critical break in the case came when authorities released photos of Austgen's rings earlier this week. Police say Martinez's ex-wife saw the missing rings inside her home, waited for Martinez to fall asleep and notified authorities. Those rings, however, have not been located yet.

Along with the rings, the suspects' three daughters viewed surveillance pictures and recognized the man as their father and also identified the baseball hat.

According to court records, Martinez and his wife were watching television when they saw the story of Augsten's death on the news. At that point, according to court records, Martinez told his ex-wife, "That's not me," and added, "lots of people with money get killed."

When the reward was announced on television, he then said, "Is that all I'm worth?"

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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