A small balding man, the 52-year-old Martin often wore a white Stetson cowboy hat and smiled in his profile pictures on dating sites such as Cowboys Dating, Gramosphere and HeavenAffairs after the couple separated in late September 2015. They had been together for 20 years and together raised his stepchild Amy Delk and her older brother Wade.
He wasn’t an overly aggressive man and at times spoke just above a whisper with an East Texas accent peppering his speech. He met Linda when she was a single mother raising two kids in the early '90s. She was petite with dark brown hair, strong willed and independent. From all accounts, this wasn’t a passionate love but a practical one.
It was late May. He’d been fighting with Linda, who was three years older, since their separation in September, arguing over the division of their property. When his wife first informed him she was leaving, he told his family and friends that it was his fault.
Everything changed in November when he caught his wife kissing Jason Hitt in the garage of their three-bedroom brick home he’d remodeled on Sagebrush Drive in Flower Mound. He’d been hiding in the shadows next to the garage, and a fight with the 42-year-old Hitt ensued. A whirlwind of emotions followed, one that lasted several months as Martin shifted between anger, hatred and longing for his wife to return home. He pleaded with her, sometimes in verse.
After the fight, Martin still harbored thoughts of patching things up. Martin’s conversation with his wife a few days after his fight with Hitt seemed to hold hope and indicate a growing rage: “What are the odds of us ever getting back together on a scale of 1 to 10? ... If you’re not in his arms, then let me take care of you. ... You’re living with a guy that tried to kill me.”
Before he approached her Jeep at the intersection in Southlake, the couple attended a mediation session and Martin learned some grim news. His wife was claiming the burial plots they had purchased together and the house on Sagebrush Drive, where she’d been living with Hitt. Linda was also seeking the family tractor and 80 acres of land in Navarro County where he tended his 100-plus head of cattle, Delk later recalled. She said he was expecting to agree on a deal.
The past few months, Martin had tried to rebuild his life. He reconnected with his adult children from a previous marriage, took country dance lessons at the bar in Fort Worth where he met his new girlfriend, and enjoyed being “pawpaw" to Delk's children.
Everything he’d been recently doing to move on with his life evaporated at the stoplight when, police say, he pulled the trigger, killing Linda Martin where she sat in the busy intersection.
A month after the shooting, Jason Hitt sat on a couch on the patio of the Black Walnut Cafe surrounded by Flower Mound police officers. They’d confronted him as soon as they arrived but looked as if they were simply chatting with him like old friends. Strained laughter could be heard from time to time as they awaited the arrival of a Denton County sheriff’s deputy who specialized in mental health assessment. Hitt downplayed the situation, reassuring officers he wasn’t a threat to himself or others sipping their iced coffee on this Tuesday afternoon in late June.
Short blond hair combed, shorts and short-sleeved dress shirt wrinkle-free, he didn’t look like a man who spent the last 24 hours posting cryptic messages on Facebook, some about being depressed, others about it being the four-week anniversary since Linda Martin's death. His friends and family called to check on him, but he ignored their calls and messages. He even took Linda’s silk nightie, which he’d been sleeping with since her death, and laid it on her grave.
His mother called the police who, in turn, tried to track him by triangulating signals from cell phone towers, but Hitt kept turning his phone off. Lewisville, Flower Mound and Keller police departments joined in the search for Hitt to get him the help his friends and family believed he desperately needed.
The Flower Mound officers at the Black Walnut Cafe took him into custody and placed him under suicide watch. It was not the first or last time police would hear about his erratic behavior.
Hitt's seven-month relationship with Linda Martin wasn’t practical, but passionate and exciting. Hitt met her during Flower Mound's 2015 spring political season. (Shortly after the election, he became the Flower Mound planning and zoning commissioner, but lost the position in July 2015 after making a perceived threat to a council member.) Linda was a real estate agent with an ability to garner media attention by advocating for local issues.
The couple kissed in the garage of the house on Sagebrush Drive in early November 2015. They'd just returned from Hitt's business trip from Atlanta. “We had some kind of crazy energy that we didn’t understand,” Hitt says.
This crazy kind of love led them both to file for divorce in November 2015. Hitt says he left his wife about a week after Linda left her husband. He says he and his spouse were essentially friends without romantic attachment. But Hitt's wife Amy says she was caught completely by surprise with the divorce and his affair with Linda. It also wasn’t his first affair, she says.
Cathy Strathmann, one of Linda’s close friends, says Martin’s threatening behavior pushed Linda and Hitt closer together because she felt safe with him.
When Linda first became more politically active in the community in early 2015, Strathmann recalls Martin following his wife as if he were stalking her and accusing her of sleeping with one of the political candidates. He was jealous of her finding community causes to support and bonding with other like-minded individuals, she says.
In early November 2015, the affair was exposed, leading to a fight between Martin and Hitt in front of the house on Sagebrush Drive. Police records say Martin was picking up air-conditioning repair equipment from his shop behind the house when he saw Hitt’s pickup parked in front. A quick look in the garage revealed Hitt and Linda embraced in a kiss.
Linda had told him earlier in the day that she wanted to go out on a date with Hitt. “Trust me, it’s a friggin’ mess,” Linda texted her daughter. “I thought being honest with Kenny was the best thing to do before I dated Jason, and he seemed fine with it. He even said he had a girl’s phone number that he was going to call.”
But he wasn’t fine with it. Standing in front of the house he once shared with his wife, he listened to Hitt try to explain. Martin later told police he heard Hitt say he’d been seeing his wife since February. Hitt told him to get off the property and leave Linda alone.
“Listen here, buddy, that’s my wife,” said Martin, pointing his finger in Hitt’s face.
“It’s my understanding that you guys are separated,” Hitt replied.
“That’s my wife in there,” Martin yelled.
“She is free to choose to be with whoever she wants to be with.”
Enraged, Martin knocked Hitt off the tailgate of his pickup. They’re both about the same height in the mid 5-feet range, but Martin was thinner and weaker than the younger more athletic man. Hitt later claimed he allowed Martin to have his moment “to get it out of his system” then told him to stop fighting before he got hurt.
Martin didn't stop fighting. Hitt hurt Martin with a thumb jabbed in Martin's eye, several solid punches and a wrestling match that ended in the neighbor’s backyard. Martin suffered several cuts on his head, injuries that the Flower Mound police determined were made with Hitt’s pocketknife. This led to Hitt’s arrest for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. A DNA test later proved Martin’s blood was indeed on the pocketknife, but the grand jury declined to indict Hitt. Their decision came down three days before police say Martin killed Linda in Southlake. Martin's stepdaughter says he didn't find out until the day of the shooting.
“The cops ask if I’m living there, if we’re sleeping together and shouldn’t I know that messing around with a married woman is going to do this?” Hitt says. “It’s a very old-boy backwoods mentality. You don’t have rights and you’re a chained woman.”
Hitt was worried about Martin and pushed Linda to carry firearms. He claimed that Martin was stalking his wife and Linda claimed he trapped her in a parking lot and simply stared at her for several minutes before he allowed her to leave. She wrote in a May 3 email to her husband’s attorney that her husband was pushing the line: “Kenny is playing a deck of cards, and he’s been on a winning streak. He feels bold, and has people believing him; but he is bound to lose eventually when you pretend to be someone you’re not.”
Hitt was on the phone with Linda when she was shot. He could hear gunshots ringing through Linda’s cellphone. “Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump,” he says.
He’d been talking with her after the mediation, and said that she told him that she felt good about the offer. She was in the middle of a sentence when she stopped and said, “Shit. Oh shit.” Hitt says he heard the phone drop, thumping noises and some rustling. “I thought she had rolled her car and flipped it,” he says. “I was yelling for her. ‘Honey, are you OK? Is everything all right?'”
Then he heard a car door open and finally Martin’s voice as he called his stepdaughter to tell her what he’d done.
“I knew something bad had happened,” Hitt says.
Hitt raced to find her. He regretted not encouraging her to accept Martin’s offer. “She really was thinking about taking his offer even if she was going to get screwed in the end,” he says. “She had said that she could be free, and I wished I had been more supportive. I felt that he was over the barrel and he put her through so much pain.”
When he finally got to Southlake, she’d already been taken to Baylor Medical in Grapevine. He gave his statement to the police, drove over to the hospital and sprinted up to the ICU. He was reciting a Hail Mary when a security guard appeared, told him Linda’s family wanted him to leave and escorted him out of the hospital.
“So I’m down there in the parking lot in the rain and not knowing if my soulmate is alive or dead,” he says. “I’m praying to God, I don’t care if she’s quadriplegic just give her to me, bring my love back to me.”
He texted Linda’s daughter, pleading with her to let him see Linda one last time. “She would not want this,” he says he wrote. “Please let me be by her side.”
Linda was already close to death when he was finally allowed to see her. She was dressed in a patient gown with cloth on both sides of her head. He could see her face. “She looked like she always did,” Hitt recalls. “Her big brown eyes were just beautiful, and I held her hand for about 10 seconds and told her that it was OK, that I loved her and that I would see her again.” She died shortly afterward.
She understood why her mother had originally decided to leave her stepfather. The stress of running a family heating-and-air-condition repair business during the financial crisis hit the Martins hard. It didn’t help that they’d been living separate lives for years. When her mother left, Delk recalls her stepfather crying and pleading.
“Too little too late,” Delk says. “Mom had made up her mind. That’s how she was. Once she made up her mind, it was hard to change it.”
Sitting in a busy Starbucks in Keller, the 34-year-old Delk looks like she’s carrying the weight of her mother’s death in her brown eyes. Her stepfather used to say she and her mother had “Disney eyes,” but on this Wednesday morning in late July, guilt, sadness and anger flicker like a film projector.
Next to her is her wife, Kelly, who’s checking on their second child, a newborn daughter. The infant was sitting peacefully next to them in a car-seat. Like Kenny Martin, neither of them knew about Linda’s growing extramarital relationship until the night when Delk's stepfather called for a ride home from the hospital after fighting Jason Hitt.
“I felt that it wasn’t on the up and up,” Delk says of her mother and Hitt. “They weren’t telling me everything. He told us that he’d gotten a divorce, but we find out later after the shooting that he was still married.”
Two months have passed since Delk's mother’s death. It should be a time for Delk and her wife to celebrate their daughter’s birth. Instead they’re battling to keep Martin from selling Linda’s half of the property to fund his defense.
Texas’ “slayer rule” only covers the financial aspect of a murderer receiving money from his victim’s life insurance policy. The state does have what’s called a constructive trust, in which the victim’s loved ones must sue the murderer in civil court. They must prove that Martin purposely caused his wife's death, which would keep him from inheriting her shared property.
Delk's wife says they’re trying to show that, with Martin murdering Linda and awaiting trial, he meets the criteria for being incapacitated. That designation would allow her wife to be named executor of the will so she can handle her mother’s affairs. “This won’t end,” she says. “There’s no chance of grieving.”
The couple considers both grandparents as lost, since they cut off Martin. “He’s lost his grandkids," Delk says. "We don’t want him near our house. He’s forever a monster to us.”
Martin was once an honest, hard-working Texas cowboy who loved Linda and her daughter and her older son Wade. They met through mutual friends in September 1995. They were both divorced and hailed from different worlds. He grew up in the Texarkana area, and she spent her youth in Illinois.
Their romance led them to a small chapel in Euless where fewer than a dozen people witnessed their union. Delk served as the maid of honor for her mother, who didn’t have many friends. Her brother Wade didn't take to his new stepfather, but an appreciation grew. “Man, he was always there,” he says. “He had that entrepreneurial spirit and got us out of the curse of poverty. He was like, we could do that too.”
Over the course of their 20-year marriage, the Martins built a successful heating-and-air-conditioning business, bought several properties, took part in a real estate agency with their son and raised a herd of cattle in East Texas. They bought a house in Euless but moved several years later after their battle with their local HOA over an American flag they had displayed in honor of their son, who was serving overseas in the Middle East.
The battle spilled over into the newspapers and on evening news broadcasts, and prompted a petition that led HOA board members to resign. It was Linda’s first taste of the spotlight, but it wouldn’t be her last.
As their marriage unraveled, she still tried to salvage their relationship and took a vacation with him to Destin, Florida, where they’d spent their honeymoon nearly 20 years ago. The trip was a disaster and pushed Linda toward separation. “I think she finally grew some balls and wanted to have her own life,” Strathmann says. “She had more girlfriends. Her priorities changed, and she hit menopause and thought, God, is this how I want to spend the rest of my life?”
After the fight with Hitt erupted in her front yard, Linda began receiving phone calls from local reporters seeking comment. She was frustrated because she’d supported her boyfriend’s story and told police he didn’t use a knife. But police-cited evidence supported her husband. “Kenneth’s version never altered while Jason became evasive when tasked with answering questions about the involvement of the knife,” the investigating officer wrote in his probable cause affidavit. “Jason’s story of being hit in the face was not consistent with the injuries I observed at the scene or in the jail, [but] the injuries observed to Kenneth were consistent with his version of the events.”
Linda met with her husband a few days after the fight in November at Trio Craft Coffee in Flower Mound. She was trying to persuade him to drop charges against Hitt, and she recorded their conversation. She didn’t want to testify in a Denton County court. Reporters were already calling her job at Keller Williams, and her son was planning to let her go because of the unwanted media attention. But Martin countered by telling her he’d call off the local reporters, as if he knew them personally, if she’d simply give their relationship another chance.
“What are the odds of us ever getting back together on a scale of 1 to 10?” Martin asked.
“I don’t know,” Linda answered. “This has made it so much worse. I just want to reset to go back to the night before. I mean, everybody’s mad at me. ... I can’t go back, okay?”
“You sound like somebody to me that’s a teenager in deep love for the first time.”
“Oh God, you’ve got to be kidding. [Jason’s] not even speaking to me. Do you think that after all this he’s even going to want to … ”
“You’re a great catch,” Martin said.
“No, I’m not crazy. You guys are in love with each other.”
“I am not in love,” Linda said. “It was a date.”
“No, there’s more to it.”
Martin was right. The six months that followed led Linda and her boyfriend to hide out in a motel room in Lewisville because, Hitt says, they feared for their lives.
Martin had been attending marriage counseling, reading relationship books and trying to improve, his stepdaughter says. He eventually began dating and found a girlfriend at a country bar in Fort Worth. “We were like, OK, we’re going to get on the other side of this,” Delk says. “We can all get back to normal, you know? If I didn’t think he was in the right mindset, I would have never let him near my mom.”
But he didn’t have the right mindset. In a letter to his stepdaughter, written after the shooting, Martin says he left the car to show his wife a picture taken during a family trip to Mexico.
Instead, he shot Linda four or five times. Then he opened the car door, held his bloody wife in his arms and called his stepdaughter. “I fucking shot her,” she recalls him telling her. “I couldn’t take it anymore.” He waited quietly for Southlake police to show up and arrest him.
Delk never got to say goodbye to her mother. She was taken to Baylor Medical Center in Grapevine. Surgeons tried to save her, but her heart was too weak. Then Hitt showed up, demanding to see her mother. “I think that’s the hard part,” she says. “I know Jason cared about her. He loved her, and that’s great. It’s just hard. I guess Jason wants some sort of relationship, but it doesn’t feel ... It’s just an odd way to meet someone.”
The past two months have played hell on their divorce. Linda’s death transformed her husband into someone she didn’t recognize, someone who appeared on TV advocating for victims of domestic abuse. Meanwhile, as indicated in this courtroom, he had become an abuser himself.
Amy’s hair is brown but short, skin slightly darker than Linda’s. She's a suburban mother with a 10-year-old, severely autistic child and an estranged, increasingly erratic husband. She dealt with her husband’s grief the only way she knew how: by being reasonably supportive and doing her best, she says, to keep from filing a protective order. She even allowed him to return home for a short time after Linda’s death, but instead of getting better, her husband only grew worse.
Maybe it was grief that caused Hitt to call his wife a “soulless bitch” when he asked her to lend him $30,000 to buy the Martins’ house on Sagebrush Drive. Maybe it was the stress of the murder that caused him to pick up his son from day care a day before the Flower Mound police incident in late June without permission and tell him that he was leaving because “mommy was being mean,” according to Amy’s affidavit for protection. Amy told the judge it took her days to calm down their son because he was so distraught. Her husband was forced to carry him into her office. She says she didn’t even know he’d picked up their son from day care and claims he told her, “I hope you enjoy your blood money.”
He blamed his wife for stealing “Linda’s time from him” and told her, “What Kenny didn’t destroy, you’re finishing. I offered everything just to be with Linda and [our son] without your meddling. May God have mercy on your soul for the bitterness and destruction you’ve brought on us for the sake of greed and hatred.” Soon after, Hitt drove over to his wife’s house to have a “showdown,” which led his mother to send her a warning text, telling Amy to “Leave. House now!!!!”
Judge Jonathan Bailey told Hitt that he wasn’t a credible witness when he took the stand to tell his version of what happened the morning of July 14 when his wife claims he tried to run her and their son off the road.
It was a few days after his release from the Denton County mental health facility where he was involuntarily committed by the Flower Mound police at the Black Walnut Cafe. He said he had been thinking about committing “suicide by cop,” according to his medical records, disclosed as evidence by his wife’s attorney. A Flower Mound police officer also testified on her behalf in court. Amy brought three other witnesses, but they were never called to take the stand.
But Hitt held on to his story as if it were a lifeline. He told the judge he was simply wanting to talk with his wife about seeing his son because she wasn’t answering his calls or texts. (He never called or sent a text that morning, his wife’s attorney pointed out.) Hitt struggled to explain his version of events, claiming he couldn’t quite remember certain parts of his tale yet clearly remembering other parts. He denied driving over to her house, but did go "near it."
“I feel like you’re playing me for a fool,” Judge Bailey told Hitt. “I’m not buying what you’re trying to sell.”
Hitt brought his 74-year-old mother, Linda Wyatt, as his witness. Wyatt took up for her son and downplayed the reason she’d sent the text to Amy. She claimed she was simply worried, but he kept telling her that it was his visitation day. “I was just trying to protect Jason and [her grandson],” she said, before she denied telling the Flower Mound police officer that her son wanted a "showdown" with his wife.
Amy’s attorney played a recording, and Wyatt’s frantic voice filled the courtroom as she told both the Flower Mound police officer and Amy that Hitt did indeed want to have a showdown. “I don’t remember saying that,” said Wyatt, looking at the judge as if she were begging him to believe her.
The judge didn’t believe her, but thanked her for having enough sense to warn her daughter-in-law. Then he granted the protective order.
“The judge called me a monster,” Hitt told the Observer the next day. “I think I’m just going to sign over my rights to my son and leave the country ... maybe do some missionary work.”
Martin sat next to his attorney, hands and feet shackled as he listened to the prosecutor explain to the judge why his bail should be revoked. It was his third bail hearing since his wife's death. His bond was originally set at a low $250,000. The prosecutor rushed to put restrictions, like house arrest and a ban on weapons, on the bond in fear of Martin making bail before these were established.
Then the judge lowered Martin’s bail to $100,000 in deference to his otherwise clean record.
Ankle monitor strapped firmly to his leg, Martin exited out of jail and moved to his rental home in Keller, not far from where his stepdaughter and her wife lived with his two grandchildren. His son Kenneth Nolan showed up at his house to handle his affairs, although he wouldn’t return the Observer's calls for comment. Martin's girlfriend from Fort Worth also stopped by to see him as he waited for his trial date to be set. His stepdaughter and her wife had nothing to do with him.
Martin ended up back in custody. He didn’t take the stand at the hearing last week. Instead, court officials handling the conditions of his bail took the stand to serve as witnesses for the state. They pointed out that upon his release from jail on July 22, he not only left his house while under house arrest to travel to Corsicana to tend to his cattle but also was found with a camouflage compound bow with arrows in his possession. These were deemed clear violations of his bail conditions.
Instead of revoking Martin’s bail for his repeated violations, Judge Mollee Westfall granted him another bond of $200,000.
Martin covered his face with his hands and shook his head, his shoulders slumped even lower when he heard the judge’s recommendation. He’d spent most of the money from his heating-and-air-conditioning business and his stepdaughter paid bills with what was left. He forked over at least $10,000 to bond out the first time. He couldn’t sell any of the property since it was all incorporated in his and his wife’s name, and his stepdaughter was doing her damnedest to make sure he doesn’t use it to fund his defense. The only revenue seemingly available to him is what remains of his now sickly herd of cattle in Navarro County.
Monday morning, Martin bonded out of jail to await trial on charges he murdered his wife.
He’d sent a letter from jail to his stepdaughter before his initial release, trying to explain why he’d shot her mother. "Amy, I know that nothing I can say or do will bring your mom back," it read. "Just know I never meant to hurt her. It was an accident. I loved her just as much as you did! I wanted to talk and give her a photo of us in Mexico with you girls (happy times) and my wedding ring."
He closed out the letter simply. "I know I will never see you again," he wrote. "Love ya, Kenny."