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Nevada judge considers defense motions in quadruple killings

May 20, 2019
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Wilbur Martinez-Guzman, from El Salvador, appears in Washoe District Court room in Reno, Nev., on Monday, May 20, 2019. Martinez-Guzman faces charges for the murders of four people in Northern Nevada. (Andy Barron/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP)
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Wilbur Martinez-Guzman, from El Salvador, appears in Washoe District Court room in Reno, Nev., on Monday, May 20, 2019. Martinez-Guzman faces charges for the murders of four people in Northern Nevada. (Andy Barron/The Reno Gazette-Journal via AP)

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Lawyers for a Salvadoran immigrant charged with killing four people urged a judge on Monday to dismiss some of the charges and throw out his confession, citing procedural errors.

Wilber Ernesto Martinez-Guzman faces murder, burglary and weapons charges in the deaths of four people in northern Nevada in January.

His public defenders say the Washoe County grand jury lacked legal jurisdiction to indict him for two of the January killings that occurred in Douglas County. They say prosecutors also failed to provide the necessary supporting evidence to allow the jury to hear testimony that Martinez-Guzman confessed to fatally shooting and stealing from the victims to support a drug habit.

“The grand jury in Washoe County exceeded its powers,” said John Arrascada, Washoe County’s chief public defender.

“We could be back here in 20 years to address this issue of process. We need to start this case off properly,” he said. “We’re not saying this case cannot at some point be joined, but that’s somewhere down the road.”

Federal officials have said Martinez-Guzman, 20, 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.

Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks and Douglas County District Attorney Mark Jackson, who are co-prosecuting the case, said Monday the defense’s “misguided assertions” aren’t supported by law and could “lead to an absurd result.”

Jackson said all district courts in Nevada enjoy statewide jurisdiction in cases involving criminal felonies.

He said the gun used in the killings was in Martinez-Guzman’s car when he was arrested in Carson City.

“He did all of this while in possession of a revolver he used to kill Connie Koontz, Sophia Renken and Gerry and Sherri David,” Jackson said. “The facts of this case are so intertwined that his possession of the firearm was an act requisite to consummation of the crimes in Douglas County.”

Jackson said requiring prosecutors to conduct preliminary hearings in all three jurisdictions would delay justice for the families of the victims for years.

Public defender Katheryn Hickman said state law prohibits the introduction of a confession unless it’s supported by independent evidence to guard against suspects admitting crimes they didn’t commit. She said the only accompanying material presented to the grand jury that indicted him on 10 counts was based on hearsay testimony, including statements the Davids’ caretaker gave to police about comments Gerald David made about an earlier burglary when police say the handgun was taken.

Hicks said there are certain exceptions when hearsay testimony is allowed, including when the witness isn’t available to testify in court.

“We all know Mr. David is unavailable,” Hicks said. “Now the defense is seeking to exclude statements made by the person (David) who he (Martinez-Guzman) made unavailable. It flies in the face of judicial procedure.”

Washoe District Court Judge Connie Steinheimer said she expected to rule on the motions before the next status hearing June 24. The trial isn’t scheduled to begin until next April.

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