AP NEWS

Reno judge refuses to dismiss charges in 4 Nevada killings

June 24, 2019

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A Salvadoran immigrant accused of killing four people in northern Nevada for money to buy drugs will face murder charges after a judge refused his bid to throw out his confession to detectives and ruled a grand jury in Reno had jurisdictional authority to indict him for crimes outside the county.

Washoe District Judge Connie Steinheimer said Monday that while she concluded the grand jury acted within its powers, the question of whether Wilber Ernesto Martinez-Guzman, 20, can be tried for all four deaths in the same court is a separate legal matter she’ll likely have to address before the trial is scheduled to begin April 6.

“I think there is merging of jurisdiction and venue. But I anticipate a subsequent discussion regarding does the district court have venue,” she said during a status hearing.

Martinez-Guzman is accused of killing an elderly couple in Reno and two women at their rural Gardnerville homes in Douglas County south of Carson City during a 10-day rampage in January.

Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks said in a statement after Monday’s hearing that he and Douglas County District Attorney Mark Jackson “remain confident in our decision to prosecute these cases together.”

Federal officials have said Martinez-Guzman is in the U.S. illegally, but they don’t know how or when he crossed the Mexico border. The case has drawn the attention of President Donald Trump, who says it shows the need for a border wall.

John Arrascada, Washoe County’s chief public defender, argued the grand jury “exceeded its powers,” a matter he said could be the subject of future appeals. He said Martinez-Guzman should be tried in Douglas County for any crimes that occurred there.

“We could be back here in 20 years to address this issue of process. We need to start this case off properly,” he said during a hearing last month.

Prosecutors argue all grand juries in Nevada enjoy statewide jurisdiction in cases involving criminal felonies.

Steinheimer agreed and denied the motions to dismiss in two separate rulings late Friday and Saturday.

“The court declines to accept the defense argument that the Washoe County grand jury did not have jurisdiction to indict Mr. Guzman on the charges relating to events taking place in Douglas County,” she wrote.

Arrascada told her Monday, “We respect the orders. But with all due respect, we don’t agree with them.”

A detective testified before the grand jury that Martinez-Guzman told her during an interrogation at the Washoe County Jail that he robbed and killed his elderly victims because he needed money to buy methamphetamine.

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