RENO — A judge in Reno has denied a motion to dismiss two murder charges against a Salvadoran immigrant accused of killing four people in Northern Nevada in January.
The defense had argued a Washoe County grand jury lacked authority to indict 20-year-old Wilber Ernesto Martinez-Guzman for crimes outside the county.
But Washoe District Judge Connie Steinheimer ruled late Friday that the panel had legal jurisdiction to return the 10-count indictment in March on all four murder charges as well as multiple counts of burglary and possession of a stolen firearm.
However, in a separate hearing Monday, she acknowledged that the question of whether Martinez-Guzman can be tried for all four deaths in the same court is a separate legal matter she’ll likely have to address before the trial is scheduled to begin April 6.
The judge also denied a defense motion over the weekend that argued Martinez-Guzman’s alleged confession to all four shootings was illegally presented to the grand jury.
Martinez-Guzman is accused of killing an elderly couple in Reno and two women at their rural Gardnerville homes south of Carson City during a 10-day rampage.
Federal officials have said he 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.
John Arrascada, Washoe County’s chief public defender, told the judge during a May 20 hearing the grand jury “exceeded its powers,” a matter he said could be the subject of future of appeals. He said Martinez-Guzman should be tried for any alleged crimes in rural Douglas County south of Carson City.
“We could be back here in 20 years to address this issue of process. We need to start this case off properly,” he said.
Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks and Douglas County District Attorney Mark Jackson, who are co-prosecuting the case, said all district courts in Nevada enjoy statewide jurisdiction in cases involving criminal felonies.
Steinheimer agreed, at least as it relates to the indictment.
“The court declines to accept the defense argument that the Washoe County grand jury did not have jurisdiction to indict Mr. Guzman on the charges relating to events taking place in Douglas County,” she wrote in the 12-page ruling late Friday.
But she emphasized she hasn’t been asked to rule yet on whether that jurisdiction extends to the venue of a trial.
Washoe District Attorney Chris Hicks says he and Douglas County District Attorney Mark Jackson remain confident of their authority to prosecute all the deaths together.
A detective testified before the grand jury that Martinez-Guzman told her during an interrogation at the Washoe County Jail that he robbed and killed his elderly victims because he needed money to buy methamphetamine.
Prosecutors say all four victims were shot with a gun Martinez-Guzman stole earlier from two of his victims, Gerry and Sherri David of Reno, prominent members of the Reno Rodeo Association who employed him last summer as a landscaper.
Jackson said the gun was in Martinez-Guzman’s car when he was arrested in Carson City, a jurisdiction separate from Washoe and Douglas counties.
“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.”
Hicks and Jackson said requiring prosecutors to conduct preliminary hearings in all three jurisdictions would delay justice for the families of the victims for years.