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Man awaiting trial in UC Riverside professor’s death dies in jail

December 29, 2009 | 11:09 am

A Long Beach construction worker awaiting trial in the death of a UC Riverside professor last year died in his jail cell on Christmas Day, authorities said today.

A guard on a security walk found Marlon Martinez, 22, lying in his bed, unresponsive and not breathing, at about 6:50 a.m., said Sheriff's Sgt. George Hosac of Los Angeles County Men's Central Jail Operations.

Paramedics were summoned to the four-man cell to try to revive Martinez, officials said, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Martinez was charged with killing Lindon Barrett, 46, an English professor at UC Riverside who specialized in African American studies. Barrett was found strangled to death in his loft in downtown Long Beach in July 2008 after his neighbors reported a foul odor coming from one of the units in the complex.

Hosac said there were no signs of foul play in Martinez's death but that homicide investigators had inspected the cell.

The coroner's office performed an autopsy Monday, but it was inconclusive, authorities said. It could be six weeks or more before a toxicology tests are completed to determine the cause of death.

Long Beach police arrested Martinez after tracking him to Barrett's missing car.

Barrett was a specialist in 19th century and early 20th century African American literature and culture who started teaching at UC Riverside in 2007. He had previously taught at UC Irvine's Comparative Literature and English Department, where he helped found the Program in African American Studies in 1994.

After earning his doctorate in English at the University of Pennsylvania, he had written for scholarly journals on a wide range of subjects, including the slave narrative and autobiography, the homoeroticism of Langston Hughes and the development and interdependence of mercantilism and slavery. He also served as an advisor on the Steven Spielberg film "Amistad."

--Tony Barboza