The man accused of taking Joaquin Rivera's watch as the Puerto Rican community leader was dead or dying in a Frankford hospital waiting room is a petty thief and an alcoholic, but definitely "not a monster," said two people who likely know him best.
They are Paula Millington and Tracy Smith, sisters of Martin Smith, 41, who is in custody on charges of robbing Rivera, 63, late on the night of Nov. 28 at Aria Health-Frankford Campus. The theft, carried out by three people while Rivera waited for attention, was captured on surveillance camera, images that were then aired on news outlets.
The two women said their brother is a decent man whose failing is a need to feed his alcohol addiction.
Millington said Martin Smith was an illiterate alcoholic with epilepsy who has lived on the streets of Frankford for about three years.
Tracy Smith said she saw him periodically and did not know where he slept.
"He's not a murderer," Millington, 43, said. "Yes, he made a poor decision and it was wrong, and my heart goes out over what happened to Mr. Rivera."
What happened to Rivera - who, according to authorities, arrived at Aria's emergency room at 10:45 p.m. complaining of pain on his left side and then likely died 11 minutes later - has sparked questions about the quality of health care given to people in modest neighborhoods. The video, which shows three people gathering around Rivera, who by then was unconscious and likely dead, and then relieving him of his watch, sparked outrage.
Police arrested one of the suspects, Richard Alten, 44, who had been seeking undisclosed medical treatment, right away, and soon announced that they were looking for two more people described as homeless drug addicts.
"If I don't speak up for him, all we know about Martin Smith is that he's cold-blooded, he's homeless, and he took a man's watch in a ER," Millington said. "In reality, he's an alcoholic and he did a nonviolent petty crime."
Tracy Smith said her brother had been an alcoholic since his 20s.
"Don't paint him as a monster," she said. "Aside from his drinking, Marty is a decent guy who would give you his last dollar."
According to police, Smith took the watch.
Tracy Smith said her brother had remained in the Frankford section even though he likely knew police were looking for him. He was arrested without incident while walking in the 5100 block of Penn Street on Dec. 3, four days after the robbery.
Millington noted that after Martin Smith was arrested, he told reporters: "I didn't know he was dead."
Jannira Walker, 21, was picked up last Saturday.
Police said the watch had been recovered and would be returned to Rivera's family.
Both sisters said they had met Walker through their brother, and that he had described the young woman as a friend he knew from the streets. Walker had come to Philadelphia from New York, the sisters said.
Millington said that her brother served two stints in prison for selling drugs and robbery and that he was released in 2003.
His criminal record includes several arrests on charges of disorderly conduct and criminal mischief. Those charges were dismissed, as was a burglary arrest.
"I know that Marty has a criminal history," Millington said. "He paid his debt for those crime issues."
"He was able to drop out of school in the seventh grade," Millington said. "He fell through the cracks. Marty is illiterate and he has epilepsy."
Tracy Smith said her brother never married and for a while in the 1980s worked in a pizza parlor. But his life has been spiraling downward for years.
"My father died in 1988, and I think that's when Marty started the heavy drinking and criminal activity," Tracy Smith said.
Millington said that when their mother died of leukemia last year, Smith's drinking worsened.
"He seemed to give up altogether. She supported him," Millington said.
Rivera, a community activist, musician, and high school counseling assistant, was pronounced dead at 12:04 a.m. Nov. 29, about an hour and 20 minutes after he arrived at the hospital.
In the days since, City Council has called for hearings into the matter and state officials have initiated an investigation.
Smith, Alten and Walker remained in jail yesterday. Smith is held on $100,000 bail, Alten on $2,500 bail, and Walker on $75,000 bail.
Millington said she was working to get a private lawyer for her brother.
"My main concern," Millington said, "is that he get help [for his alcoholism] and a fair trial."