Marttinez Guzman murder case: Pre-trial battles & reluctant witnesses

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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) -- His trial is still six months away, but battles over what the jurors will hear in the Wilber Martinez Guzman murder case are intensifying.

Washoe District Court Judge Connie Steinheimer has been holding monthly status hearings to keep the case on track. Even so, she's had to agree to continue the original April trial date to late August.

Friday's hearing revisited an issue which threatens even that timeline.

There were other matters to argue -- evidence at one of the crime scenes and jury instructions -- but the key battle goes back to the very beginning of the court case.

Martinez Guzman is accused of the murders of four people in Douglas and Washoe counties in January of 2019. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty,

But the defense claims his IQ may be 66 or lower, a mental impairment which would take the death penalty off the table.

They've insisted they need the expertise of a neuropsychologist to bolster that argument. Such an expert fluent in Spanish and able to go to his native El Salvador to uncover potential factors in his background are apparently in short supply.

Months ago they sought to have the trial delayed until next year over concerns for their expert's availability. Now they told the judge the ethics of his profession prevent him from recording his research there.

No recordings would reach the prosecution without the information their own experts need to examine and challenge.

The news left the usually calm Steinheimer frustrated.

"You filed an affidavit that he said if the judge continues to order this.He doesn't care if it's lawful," she told Deputy Public Defender Kate Hickman. "He doesn't like it or his society doesn't think it's appropriate for him to do it, so he'll quit. Now if he quits where are we? We're back to square one, aren't we? This case can't be tried in a timely manner. The victims have to wait another year to have the case resolved."

Such a delay is something she has already said she's unwilling to consider. So to get this issue out of the way she set another hearing ten days from now.

This could be a key moment in the case. Mitigating factors are very important when the death penalty is a possibility.

If this expert remains on the case and, next month travels to El Salvador returning with evidence to explain Martinez Guzman's alleged intellectual disability. It could remove the possibility of the death penalty.

If the expert quits the case, it makes it harder for the defense to make that argument or it could delay the trial itself.

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