Washoe judge clears way for trial in four 2019 homicides

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In this May 20, 2019 file photo, Wilber Martinez-Guzman from El Salvador appears in Washoe District Court in Reno, Nev. A judge has cleared the way for the Salvadoran immigrant to be tried in Reno for all four homicides he’s accused of committing during a six-day crime rampage in two northern Nevada counties in January 2019, but the trial is still at least months away. Washoe County District Judge Connie Steinheimer has scheduled a hearing Wednesday, Sept. 16 on a motion by public defenders for Martinez-Guzman to postpone the trial indefinitely so they can travel to El Salvador to gather information about his background, including his mental capacity. (Andy Barron/Reno Gazette-Journal/Pool via AP, File)

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A judge has cleared the way for a Salvadoran immigrant to be tried in Reno for all four homicides he’s accused of committing during a six-day crime rampage in two northern Nevada counties in January 2019, but the trial is still at least months away.

Washoe County District Judge Connie Steinheimer has scheduled a hearing Wednesday on a motion by public defenders for Wilber Martinez-Guzman to postpone the trial indefinitely so they can eventually travel to El Salvador to gather information about his background, including his mental capacity.

Travel there currently is prohibited due to the coronavirus.

Martinez-Guzman, 21, is facing the death penalty after he was indicted last year in the killing of an elderly Reno couple and two Gardnerville women in their homes.

The Nevada Supreme Court ruled in March that Washoe County prosecutors lack jurisdictional authority to prosecute him in Reno for the two killings in nearby Douglas County.

The high court ordered Steinheimer to reconsider her refusal to dismiss some of the charges. But the justices explained she could deny the motion again if she determined the crimes were sufficiently related to justify prosecuting him in Washoe County.

The (Gardnerville) Record-Courier reports Steinheimer ruled on Wednesday the Washoe County grand jury’s indictment was valid.

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.

The indictment on 10 counts included four murder and multiple burglary charges.

Investigators say he stole a revolver from Gerald and Sharon David in southwest Reno Jan. 4, 2019, before traveling to rural Douglas County where he shot Constance Koontz Jan. 9 and Sophia Renken Jan. 12, then returned to rob and kill the Davids Jan. 15.

District Attorneys Chris Hicks of Washoe County and Mark Jackson of Douglas County said they sought a single indictment in Reno partly to expedite prosecution.

They insisted the crimes are linked because he shot all four victims with the same gun he stole from the Reno couple he had worked for in 2018 as a landscaper.

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