RENO — Lawyers for a Salvadoran immigrant charged with killing four people in January 2019 are asking a judge to postpone his murder trial indefinitely.
Public defenders for Wilber Ernesto Martinez Guzman said they are attempting to conduct a mental disability evaluation to determine whether he has an intellectual disability that would make him ineligible for the death penalty if convicted.
Martinez Guzman, 21, is charged with murder in the deaths of four people ranging in age from 56 to 81 during a 10-day rampage, telling authorities he committed the crimes because he needed money to buy methamphetamine.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that defendants who suffer from an intellectual disability should not be given the death sentence because it would be considered "a cruel and unusual punishment" in violation of the Eighth Amendment.
The lawyers argued that they cannot conduct a legitimate investigation without sending medical experts to interview the suspect's family and friends. The lawyers say the experts are unable to leave for Central America because of travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
"The only party that will benefit from an unreliable investigation, in the short term, is the state," defense attorneys said in a court document filed Monday.
The court filings were made following a three-day hearing in July. At the hearing, Second District Court Judge Connie Steinheimer ordered both parties to file their arguments before she would make a ruling.
Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks said his office will respond within 10 days.
"We think the victims and the victims' family members deserve better and that the trial needs to go forward," Hicks told the Reno Gazette Journal.
Hicks argued that the medical experts could conduct their investigation using online communication platforms such as Zoom or FaceTime. He said that Martinez Guzman has been using Zoom to talk to his relatives in El Salvador.
Meanwhile, Martinez Guzman's lawyers argued that it is essential that their experts go to the defendant's hometown and speak to his loved ones in person in order to fully understand what his life was like growing up.
Their investigation would also look into whether Martinez Guzman was exposed to harmful substances as a youth or if he was traumatized, mistreated or neglected.