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After 16 Years, Arrest Made in N.C. Officer Killing

Oct. 05--The arrest of a Florida man for the 1996 murder of a former Mount Airy police officer has finally brought a sense of closure in coping with the violent death of a loved one, family members say.

"I feel like it's been a long time coming -- it's 16 years tonight," Jeff Martin said Thursday of the time that has passed since his brother, Sgt. Gregory Keith Martin, was gunned down on Interstate 77. At the time, he was a member of the Jonesville Police Department.

In terms of achieving justice, Jeff Martin added, "I feel like it's a long time to have to wait."

Until Scott Vincent Sica, 36, of Cape Coral, Fla., was taken into custody Wednesday night for the October 1996 slaying of Sgt. Martin, a cloud surrounded the case in the minds of his survivors.

"It hung over the whole family," said Terry Sechrist of Pilot Mountain, whose late wife Tonya was a sister of the slain officer. Greg Martin has additional survivors in this area as well, including another sister.

Before Tonya Sechrist died in October of last year, the idea that authorities would someday pinpoint her brother's killer remained constant. "She was hoping they would find out," Terry Sechrist added Thursday.

Jeff Martin, a Mount Airy resident, said it has been difficult to deal not only with his brother's death, but the fact that the person responsible was on the loose all these years.

"It won't bring him back, we realize that," he said of family members' sentiments regarding the capture of Sica. "But maybe we can get some closure -- it's hard to bring closure when somebody remains free from killing a loved one."

That breakthrough came Wednesday night when Sica was arrested by members of the Lee County, Fla., Sheriff's Office Major Crimes Unit, with assistance from a SWAT team and other special units, according to media outlets in Florida. They were acting on a first-degree murder warrant issued by North Carolina authorities.

"It's a sense of relief in a way -- somebody got caught," Jeff Martin said of the pain that he and other family members have experienced since the 1990s.

"I mean, anybody that would do anything to a police officer," Martin said, "they don't need to be running around free."

Despite the passage of years since the slaying, family members always held out hope that the killer would be found.

"We didn't want the wrong person to have to pay for something," Jeff Martin said of investigators being able to make an arrest in the case. But, he continued, "I feel like the way they talked, it (Sica) is the right one."

"Persistence Has Paid Off"

The Lee County, Fla., Sheriff's Office Major Crimes Unit had been working with the Jonesville Police Department, the FBI and the State Bureau of Investigation for several months in an effort to solve the case. It had been the subject of an "America's Most Wanted" television program.

Before Wednesday night, the Greg Martin slaying stood as the only unsolved, open murder investigation of a law officer in North Carolina history, according to Chet Jessup of Pilot Mountain. Jessup is a retired law enforcement officer who has organized memorial tributes to Martin.

"It's a good day," Jessup said Thursday in reaction to the arrest of the Florida resident. "It's the best news in 16 years."

Jessup also was glad that Sica's capture might finally bring closure to Greg Martin's survivors, including a mother in poor health.

"Greg was a friend of mind," said Jessup. "It will just make things better to know that the individual who took Greg's life will finally see some justice."

Martin, 30, was fatally shot in 1996 while working a night shift for the Jonesville Police Department. He earlier was on the Mount Airy police force from Aug. 5, 1991, to July 19, 1992.

During his shift that night, at about 2:45 a.m. on Oct. 5, 1996, Martin radioed in to a dispatcher that he was investigating a suspicious person behind a strip mall. He subsequently initiated a traffic stop of the red Dodge pickup the suspect was in after it headed onto Interstate 77.

The pickup was pulled over in Yadkin County just south of Jonesville.

A trooper with the N.C. Highway Patrol who had heard radio traffic about the traffic stop and went to the scene to provide backup subsequently found Martin sprawled on the side of I-77 with multiple gunshot wounds to the head.

Meanwhile, the suspect had fled, with the red pickup found abandoned in Elkin. Investigators determined it had been stolen in Princeton, W.Va., along with the tags it bore.

Martin's killer then is believed to have stolen a van from a company in Elkin which later was abandoned in Gastonia.

Though the case stymied authorities for the better part of 15 years, despite offering reward money, they remained vigilant that it would be resolved.

One recent effort involved the formation of a special cold case unit by the Jonesville Police Department of present and retired members of the State Bureau of Investigation.

That unit regularly was receiving tips from citizens regarding Martin's murder, with news updates on the progress of the case keeping the story alive in the minds of the public.

"Persistence has paid off," Jessup said regarding the collective efforts that brought Sica's arrest.

Initial statements released by the Jonesville Police Department mentioned that information had been obtained through the joint investigative effort leading to the apprehension, without elaborating.

The department said the investigation was continuing and no other details would be immediately disclosed.

Jeff Martin said Thursday that being a police officer was what his brother wanted to do -- despite the risks. Greg Martin was the oldest sibling in the family.

"He was the smart one and the good-looking one," his brother said, adding that Greg was much more outgoing than him.

"He could talk to anybody."

Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or tjoyce@heartlandpublications.com.

Copyright 2012 - The Mount Airy News, N.C.

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