Suspect in 4 murders may not be tried in Reno for Douglas County deaths

Published: Mar. 26, 2020 at 3:31 PM PDT
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The Nevada Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a judge should consider if a man accused of killing four people was wrongly charged in Washoe County for the murders in Douglas County.

The case is the latest development in the case against Wilber Ernesto Martinez-Guzman, 21, who pleaded not guilty to four counts of murder in a death penalty case.

Martinez-Guzman, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, is accused of killing Connie Koontz and Sophia Renken, both of Douglas County, and Jerry and Sherry David of Reno during a two-week crime spree in January 2019.

The Supreme Court ruled the Washoe County Grand Jury only has jurisdiction to charge for crimes in the district for Washoe County, the Second Judicial District.

Nevada law “empowers a grand jury to inquire into an offense so long as the district court that empaneled the grand jury may appropriately adjudicate the defendant's guilt for that offense,” the court said.

So Washoe District Court Judge Connie Steinheimer wrongly refused to consider a motion by Martinez-Guzman’s lawyers to dismiss the four charges based on the deaths of Koontz and Renken, the Supreme Court said. It order Steinheimer to consider the motion.

But the Supreme Court stopped short of dismissing the Douglas County murder charges in Washoe District Court.

The court, in a unanimous vote, told Steinheimer “to determine whether there is a sufficient connection between the Douglas County offenses and Washoe County. To do so, the district court must determine whether venue would be proper in Washoe County for the Douglas County offenses. If so, then the Washoe County grand jury has the authority to inquire into the Douglas County offenses, and criminal proceedings may continue. If not, then the Washoe County grand jury does not have the authority to inquire into the Douglas County offenses, and the district court must grant Martinez Guzman's motion to dismiss.”

The Supreme Court noted if the Douglas County charges are dismissed in Washoe County, then the Douglas County District Attorney can charge Martinez-Guzman and prosecute him there.

Martinez-Guzman’s lawyers had sought to show their client has an intellectual disability and is therefore ineligible to face the death penalty. Trial was originally scheduled for next month but has been postponed to Aug. 31.

Copyright KOLO-TV 2020

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