RENO, Nev.—A Salvadoran immigrant told a judge Thursday he killed four people in northern Nevada, beginning a two-stage legal process that the judge and prosecutors said will avoid two death penalty trials and put the 22-year-old man in state prison for the rest of his life.
Wilber Ernesto Martinez Guzman pleaded guilty, after intense questioning by Washoe County District Court Judge Connie Steinheimer in Reno, to two counts of first-degree murder in the January 2019 deaths of Gerald and Sharon David in their Reno home.
Steinheimer acknowledged the plea took the death penalty off the table and told Martinez Guzman he will have to enter formal guilty pleas in Douglas County to the killings of two women in Gardnerville during his two-week string of crimes.
Martinez Guzman told police he committed the series of break-ins, thefts and shootings because he needed money to buy methamphetamine.
Steinheimer said that if Martinez Guzman fails to plead guilty in Douglas County, prosecutors there and Washoe County can void his plea deal and again seek the death penalty.
Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks and and Douglas County District Attorney Mark Jackson planned to meet with reporters following the two-hour court hearing.
Hicks said in a statement before proceedings began that they expected Martinez Guzman will receive “maximum sentences” that would run consecutively.
Hicks and Jackson initially planned one death-penalty trial for Martinez Guzman, but the Nevada Supreme Court ruled Sept. 30 that the defendant would have to be tried separately in the two county jurisdictions.
Authorities said Martinez Guzman stole a .22-caliber handgun from the Davids’ southwest Reno home on Jan. 4, 2019; shot and killed Constance Koontz, 56, and Sophia Renken, 74, in separate attacks in their Gardnerville homes several days later; and returned to the Davids’ house to rob and kill them Jan 15.
Gerald David, 81, and his 80-year-old wife were prominent in the Reno Rodeo Association and had employed Martinez Guzman as a landscaper the summer before.
Martinez Guzman was arrested in Carson City during a manhunt that had investigators track an Apple watch stolen from Koontz to Martinez Guzman’s mother.
Martinez Guzman has been held without bail at the Washoe County Detention Facility in Reno.
Washoe County sheriff’s Detective Stefanie Brady told a grand jury several weeks after Martinez Guzman’s arrest that he initially denied wrongdoing but later acknowledged through a Spanish interpreter he had “done something that’s unforgiveable.”
“He said he needed the money for the meth,” Brady testified.
The case drew attention at the time from then-President Donald Trump, who said it showed the need to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
By Scott Sonner