Before being charged in a jihadist plot to kill American soldiers in Catonsville with a car bomb, Antonio Martinez was a petty thief in the D.C. suburbs.
At age 16, he was arrested for armed robbery. Juvenile records aren't public, but two years later — in the span of a few weeks — he was charged with trying to steal a car in Bladensburg and snatching money from a cash register at a store in Rockville.
Daniel Tobin, a theology student who was the owner of the car reported stolen, said Thursday that he and others chased Martinez and confronted him before police were called. "He seemed concerned, to communicate that it was a misunderstanding. …" Tobin said Thursday. "From that brief encounter with a person you dont know what's beneath the surface."
Federal authorities say that on Wednesday, Martinez, a recent convert to Islam who goes by Muhammad Hussain, was arrested after trying to pull off a bombing at the Armed Forces Career Center on Baltimore National Pike. FBI agents had engaged Martinez after being tipped off to his rants on Facebook, and monitored him as he schemed to punish U.S. military forces for what he viewed as attacks on Muslims.
This week's attempt involved a dummy bomb supplied by an undercover agent. The 21-year-old had proposed shooting up the recruiting center, according to court records, but believed he would be unable to obtain a gun because of his criminal record.
State court files suggest that his record amounts to a single conviction for theft under $100 in 2008 when he and a friend conspired in February 2008 to steal cash from a Safeway. They approached the register under the guise of buying chips, then snatched money when the cashier opened the cash register drawer.
They were chased by the cashier and manager, who later identified them. Martinez pleaded guilty in March 2008 and was given a 90-day suspended sentence and six months' probation, and was ordered to pay restitution.
According to the state Division of Parole and Probation, Martinez did not pay any of the $160 restitution, and the account was sent to the Central Collection Unit.
His theft conviction does not appear to have affected his ability to get a job. A spokesman for the children's clothing store where Martinez worked from November of last year to July said he passed a background check.
"There was nothing during the application process that raised any concerns," said spokesman Mark Mizicko. "It is Gymboree policy to do a background check on job applicants. We did follow that process in this case, and it came up clean."
Later, in February 2008, Martinez was charged in Prince George's County with car theft, but the charges were later dropped when the victim did not appear in court.
In that case, court documents show that the victim, Daniel Tobin, told police that he was outside his Bladensburg apartment when he saw Martinez get into his car, drive it a block away, and park it.
Tobin, a doctoral student at Catholic University, said Thursday that he saw Martinez driving away in his car and gave chase, running between two apartment buildings. When the car stopped, "I grabbed the handles of the drivers door and the passenger door, the two doors, and he jumped out," Tobin said.
Martinez ran away, but Tobin said he drove after him in the car and three passersby joined the chase on foot. Soon, Tobin pulled his car around in front on Martinez and said, "You may as well give up running." Then police were called.
According to court documents, Martinez had a set of Tobin's car keys, complete with a remote fob. Tobin had reported a burglary a few days earlier in which car keys were stolen from his apartment. Martinez admitted to police that he'd used the car to drive to a nearby grocery store, the documents state.
Tobin said Thursday that he didn't come to court on the auto theft charge because he was not notified of a trial date. He said he had moved by then but his mail was forwarded.
In 2006 he was charged with armed robbery and handgun offenses in Montgomery County. The outcome of that charge was unclear, because the court records were sealed.
At a brief court hearing Wednesday, Martinez said he worked in construction, and The Sun spoke to a former Gymboree co-worker who said she had witnessed his transformation from a newly baptized Christian to an increasingly radical Muslim.
A woman who identified herself as Martinez's mother but refused to give her name told the Associated Press on Thursday that she had tried to persuade him not to convert to Islam. She said she's a "devout American" and is upset and embarrassed over her son's actions. The woman declined to comment further.
A former girlfriend, Alisha Legrand, said she met him three or four years ago — before he became a Muslim — and described him in an interview with the AP as quiet.
The two last spoke over the summer, and Legrand, 20, said Martinez tried to get her to convert.
"He said he tried the Christian thing. He just really didn't understand it," she said, adding that he seemed to have his life under control after converting to Islam.
Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun