Nevada Supreme Court puts immigrant killings case on hold

National

In this May 20, 2019, file photo, Wilber Martinez Guzman, from El Salvador, appears in Washoe District Court room in Reno, Nev. The Nevada Supreme Court ruled Thursday, March 26, 2020, that Washoe County prosecutors lack jurisdictional authority, at least for now, to prosecute a Salvadoran immigrant in Reno for two of the four killings that he’s accused of committing outside the county. The high court ordered Judge Connie Steinheimer to reconsider her refusal to dismiss some of the charges accusing Wilber Martinez Guzman of going on a six-day killing rampage in northern Nevada in January 2019. (Andy Barron/Reno Gazette-Journal via AP, Pool, File)

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The Nevada Supreme Court ruled Washoe County prosecutors lack jurisdictional authority — at least for now — to prosecute a Salvadoran immigrant in Reno for two of the four killings that he’s accused of committing outside the county.

The high court ordered Judge Connie Steinheimer to reconsider her refusal to dismiss some of the charges accusing Wilber Martinez Guzman of going on a six-day killing rampage in northern Nevada in January 2019.

But the justices explained Thursday she could deny the motion again if she determines the crimes were sufficiently related to justify prosecuting him in Washoe County for all the shootings, including two in nearby Douglas County.

For now, they said Steinheimer has incorrectly concluded the Washoe County grand jury enjoyed statewide authority to indict him on the Douglas County counts.

“Territorial jurisdiction of the district court does not extend statewide,” Justice Elissa Cadish wrote in the unanimous, 14-page opinion.

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.

A Washoe County grand jury indicted Martinez Guzman on 10 counts last year.

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

“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.

Public defenders wrote in the motion to dismiss the Douglas County counts last July that a county grand jury was “never intended to serve as a roving commission inquiring into statewide crimes.”

“This is the first (time) where a prosecutor asked a grand jury to indict on a crime that did not occur in the county,” John Reese Petty told the Supreme Court during oral arguments in November.

Prosecutors told the justices the intent for the Douglas County killings was formed in Washoe County.

But Petty said nothing suggests Martinez Guzman “suddenly formed this criminal intent to go on a crime spree across Nevada.”

“There’s no grand conspiracy, no grand scheme or plan that (he) made in Washoe County,” Petty said

Steinheimer agreed with prosecutors about statewide jurisdiction and threw out the motion to dismiss without advancing to the next step to determine the extent the crimes were related.

The justices said that’s now what she must do.

“The district court shall review the evidence presented to the Washoe County grand jury to determine whether there is sufficient connection between the Douglas County offenses and Washoe County,” Cadish wrote.

“A dismissal at this stage would not prevent Douglas County from initiating its own criminal proceedings regarding Martinez Guzman’s alleged Douglas County offenses,” she added.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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