RENO, Nev. (AP) – Lawyers for a Salvadoran immigrant charged with four northern Nevada homicides want to postpone his trial to determine whether he has an intellectual disability that makes him ineligible for the death penalty if convicted.
Public defenders for Wilber Ernesto Martinez-Guzman, 20, have filed a motion for a continuance in the trial scheduled to begin April 6, 2020, perhaps delaying it until February 2021.
They say their recent trip to El Salvador to interview family members and review his medical files produced “tantalizing indications” that he’s constitutionally barred from capital prosecution.
They say information gathered so far shows his IQ is much lower than originally believed and that he may have been exposed to pesticides and fertilizers while working in farm fields in his native country.
“Based on the investigation to date, there is a good faith basis to believe that Mr. Guzman is ineligible for the death penalty because he may be intellectually disabled. There could be no greater insult to public justice that to execute someone that as a matter of law is ineligible for capital punishment,” Washoe County Public Defender John Arrascada wrote in the Oct. 4 motion.
Prosecutors say Martinez-Guzman’s lawyers haven’t provided enough details to warrant such a lengthy delay in the prosecution of the case stemming from a weeklong killing rampage in January.
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.
Martinez-Guzman was indicted March 13 on four murder counts in the killings of a Reno couple at their home days after he shot two women at their residences in Douglas County near Gardnerville. Prosecutors quickly declared they would seek the death penalty.
A detective testified before the grand jury that Martinez-Guzman told her during an interrogation that he robbed and killed his elderly victims because he needed money to buy methamphetamine.
His lawyer said that even with the aid and support of the El Salvadorian Consulate, medical and school records have proven difficult to obtain. They said the Spanish-speaking neuropsychologist and mitigation specialist they hired estimates if all goes well, he could provide a report by next May and testify next summer.
Refusing a continuance would “deny the expert the necessary information and testing required to prepare and complete his report,” they said. “If the trial date remains, he would testify with virtually no preparation or foundation because the tests and interviews would be incomplete.”
District Attorneys Chris Hicks of Washoe County and Mark Jackson of Douglas County said Guzman’s motion relies on generalities associated with defending capital cases and El Salvadoran defendants.
“The motion does not contain any specific information that demonstrates a continuance is justified or reasonable in this case,” they said, adding that about two years would have passed since his indictment if the trial doesn’t start until February 2021.
“Guzman is not requesting a day, week or month continuance,” they wrote. He’s “requesting a trial date sixteen to seventeen months from now to accommodate an unidentified witness’ schedule.”
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