An 82-year-old man hospitalized for COVID-19 in California was beaten to death last week by a fellow patient angered by the elderly man’s praying in their shared hospital room, authorities said.
Jesse Martinez, 37, was arrested and charged with elder abuse and murder with a hate crime enhancement in connection to the Dec. 17 killing at Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday.
Martinez and the victim did not know one another before they were hospitalized in the same room for issues related to the coronavirus. When his roommate started to pray, Martinez allegedly became upset and struck him with an oxygen tank.
The elderly man, who has not been publicly identified, died the following morning from his injuries, authorities said.
Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said he was “shocked and saddened” by the news.
“These families were already experiencing a hardship and now this — it’s senseless,” Parris said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times.
Martinez was being held on $1 million bail as of Thursday, with a court date scheduled for Monday, online records show.
Statewide, California’s hospitals have been dangerously strained due to the coronavirus pandemic, with intensive care units across Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley, just to the north, remaining at full capacity as of this week.
Los Angeles County, where the killing took place, had the country’s highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and related deaths as of Thursday, according to numbers compiled by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has implored residents not to travel during the holidays and to wear masks to prevent the virus’ spread and keep hospitals from being overwhelmed.
“If you gather for the holidays, our hospitals will be overrun,” Garcetti said in a public message on Tuesday. “If you mix with other households, our doctors won’t be able to treat every patient, whether they’re coming in with COVID-19 or for a heart attack.”