Nevada Supreme Court hears arguments in Gardnerville, Reno murders | NevadaAppeal.com

Nevada Supreme Court hears arguments in Gardnerville, Reno murders

By Geoff Dornan gdornan@nevadaappeal.com
FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2019, file photo, Wilber Ernesto Martinez-Guzman, of El Salvador, is escorted into the courtroom for his initial appearance in Carson City Justice Court in Carson City, Nev. Lawyers for Martinez-Guzman, a Salvadoran immigrant charged with four northern Nevada homicides, want to postpone his trial to determine whether he suffers from an intellectual disability that disqualifies him for the death penalty. Public defenders for 20-year-old Martinez-Guzman have filed a motion for a continuance in the trial scheduled to begin April 6, 2020, perhaps delaying it until Feb. 2021. (AP Photo/Scott Sonner, File)
Associated Press

The Nevada Supreme Court Tuesday heard arguments over whether Wilbur Martinez-Guzman can be indicted by a Washoe County grand jury for murders committed in Douglas County.

Guzman faces multiple charges including four counts of murder — two of them in Washoe County and the other two in Douglas.

When law enforcement and prosecutors from both jurisdictions announced the combined indictment, they said it was in significant part to prevent the families of the victims from having to go through the same testimony and evidence twice.

But Washoe public defenders say grand juries can only indict for crimes that occurred in their turf — a concept called territorial jurisdiction.

Public Defender John Petty told the court grand juries can’t reach across county lines.

Pointing to the murder and burglaries that happened in Gardnerville Ranchos, he said, “Washoe County did not have the authority to return a true bill (indictment) on those counts.”

“Even though the district court has statewide authority for crimes committed in the state of Nevada, the power of a grand jury is tied to jurisdiction,” Petty said.

But Marilee Cate of the Attorney General’s office said the statute “does not define grand jury power strictly by boundaries.”

Justice Jim Hardesty, quoting from the statute, asked her if she was arguing that, a grand jury’s reach extended to “any crime committed in the territorial jurisdiction of the district court.”

“The territorial jurisdiction of the district court is statewide,” Hardesty said. “The jurisdiction of that grand jury is statewide, period. Is that your argument?”

Cate said that was her argument.

But Justice Lidia Stiglich said that statute concludes with, “for which it is empaneled.”

“Isn’t that a limitation on the authority of a grand jury?” she asked.

Petty argued that the Douglas and Washoe County murders were “each isolate, distinct from each other.”

“This is the first instance where a prosecutor has asked the county to indict on crimes occurring not in the county where the grand jury was convened,” he said. “The statute does not allow that.”

Cate said the district judge relied in part on evidence linking the crime spree all together, that Martinez-Guzman’s crimes began in Washoe County but were inter-connected.

“There are facts that he had that intent,” she said.

The court took the case under submission.