Twists and turns drive assistant state’s attorney on new path

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Monroe County Assistant State’s Attorney Ryan Martin (left) and State’s Attorney Chris Hitzemann discuss upcoming cases last week in their office. (Alan Dooley photo)

Recently appointed Monroe County Assistant State’s Attorney Ryan Martin feels right at home.

Although he was born in Cahokia, his family moved to Columbia when he was 3.  Much of his extended family is scattered across Monroe County.

“This is where I want to be and where I want to raise my family,” he said.

The path to his office in the Monroe County Courthouse has not been easy, to say the least. It has been an unusual one for a person working to prosecute criminals and provide legal advice and support to the county’s offices and departments.

Why? Because that path has passed through law-breaking and consequent jail time, Martin readily told the Republic-Times.

“It was a long time ago. I was 17. I was charged with burglary,” Martin said. “I broke into my aunt’s home and stole from a corner store.”

The resulting jail time brought an opportunity for the young man to re-establish his faith and religious ties that had lapsed since he attended church as a child.

“Family members talked to me. Fellow prisoners did as well,” he said. “They all encouraged me to return to Christ and place my faith in Him.”

The experience jolted the young man who was also engaged in alcohol and drug use, and who had dropped out of high school.

“I accepted Jesus and grew up,” he affirmed.

As an initial step leading to his position today, Martin completed his GED requirements and his high school education while in jail.

“I went to work at Domino’s Pizza in Waterloo in 2000,” he said. “That’s where I met the lady who would become my wife.”

By 2002, Martin enrolled at Southwestern Illinois College.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I needed an education,” he said.

After finishing there, he attended Webster University in St. Louis, achieving a bachelor’s degree in print journalism.

“I didn’t know where that was going, but I liked to write,” Martin said. “I applied to law schools. I didn’t apply to top-tier institutions, but the sequence of rejections from 17 of them was a sobering experience.

“My dad asked me if I had ever heard of Liberty University. He offered to pay the $50 application fee and I tried again,” Martin continued.  “One day, the phone rang and it was a call from Liberty. I was prepared to add No. 18 to the list and could not believe it when they offered my entrance to their law school. We went to the school in Lynchburg, Va., and it was amazing,” he said.

From 2007 to 2009, he worked toward a law degree.  The summer of 2008 really opened his eyes, when he was accepted for a judicial clerk externship with the office of Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker.

“It was another amazing experience, seeing how such a high court worked, including being involved in the background of its work,” Martin said.

Following graduation in 2009, Martin returned to the area and in that year, passed the Missouri bar exam. He worked first in Noland’s Law Office in Camden County, Mo. He even ran for judge there, garnering 40 percent of the vote. After working in another law firm in St. Louis, he took and passed the Illinois bar exam in 2012.

His next job took him across the state of Missouri to the public defender’s office in Kansas City.

“That was an eye-opening experience,” he said.

Martin tried nine jury trials in 2015 and was employed at the public defender’s office from 2012-2015.

“I’ve jury tried 17 cases including murder first, murder second, rape, robbery, and involuntary manslaughter charges,” he said.

Martin was recognized for his work defending first-time felons and received other accolades for his work.

In March 2015, he moved across Missouri with a promotion to become deputy district defender in Farmington, Mo.  While there, that office was recognized as the Missouri Public Defender District Office of the Year in 2016.

The Farmington area was also a former home of Martin’s family.

Late in 2015, Martin met Monroe County State’s Attorney candidate Chris Hitzemann.

“Frankly, I was a bit jealous.  That was a job I wanted,” he said. “He told me then that his vision was to take firmer control of crime in Monroe County, including the growing drug menace. And I realized then that we were on the same sheet of music. When he chose me I was amazed, and even though it meant a salary cut, this is where I wanted to be.”

Hitzemann said he was not deterred by the past offenses on Martin’s record, but rather, was impressed by subsequent achievements.

“His educational achievements since then, his term clerking for an Alabama Supreme Court judge, his awards for work as a public defender in Missouri, all led me to believe he could be an extremely valuable resource in building cases against big, dangerous criminals – the kind that are most threatening to our community,” Hitzemann said. “We see a lot of things similarly – both getting convictions against our largest threats, while reclaiming juvenile offenders’ lives and getting them back on the right path.”

Just weeks into their partnership here in Monroe County, it appears they are quickly forming a solid team that should send a message to potential law breakers: “Just don’t do it… not here.”

And there are plenty of cases to handle, so the office has been forced to hit the ground running.

Martin is meshed firmly into the Monroe County fabric, through active involvement with Hope Christian Church.  In addition, Martin is engaged in helping substance abusers get grips on their problems, as well as teaching Bible study class.

When he is not working, Martin says he is dedicated to his church and the firm beliefs that turned his life around, as well as spending time with family members across Monroe County.

Compassion and firmness are earmarks apparent when talking with Martin, as well as legal knowledge and a passion for enforcing the law. He expresses dedication to sharing those traits with all in what he now firmly acknowledges as his chosen home.

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