Immigrant sentenced to life without parole in Nevada murders

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RENO, Nev. (AP) — A Salvadoran immigrant has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murders of two of the four Nevada residents he admitted to killing as part of a plea deal that spared him a death penalty trial.

A Washoe County District Judge sentenced 23-year-old Wilber Ernesto Martinez Guzman on Monday in the fatal shooting of an elderly Reno couple during a two-week January 2019 rampage.

He is due in Douglas County on Thursday for the murders of two Gardnerville women and in Carson City on Friday for charges related to property he stole from his victims and sold at a pawn shop there.

Martinez Guzman, who authorities say entered the United States illegally when he was 16, pleaded guilty to all crimes last year after prosecutors announced they had reached a settlement of plea bargain in October.

Martinez Guzman had worked as a landscaper for the four victims — Jerry David, 81, and his wife, Sherri David, 80, in Reno; and Constance Koontz, 56, and Sophia Renken, 74, who lived in rural Douglas County.

In addition to four life sentences without parole, he faces more than 200 years in prison for multiple charges of burglary, theft, weapons and stolen property.

The case caught the attention of then-President Donald Trump, who said it showed the need for a wall on the US-Mexico border. He invited the Davids’ daughter and great-granddaughter to attend his State of the Union address as guests in February 2019.

Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks said the decision to drop the death penalty prosecution last fall was the result of a direct appeal from victims’ families who did not want the case goes on for years.

“I’m glad he’s spending the rest of his life in prison and I hope he spends all of this time thinking about what these family members said to him today,” Hicks told the Reno Gazette. Diary after Judge Connie Steinheimer sentenced him. Monday in Reno.

The judge heard testimony from the Davids family, well known in the Reno Rodeo community. Both served on the rodeo association’s board of directors and Jerry was a past president.

One of his rodeo belt buckles that Martinez Guzman sold to the Carson City pawnshop provided a key clue in the early stages of the investigation into the series of murders that had the community on edge for weeks .

Kari Powning, the Davids’ granddaughter, said she was always distraught whenever she saw a Reno Rodeo license plate.

“It is humanly impossible to suffer a tragedy of this magnitude and never of the same,” Powning said.

Prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty shortly after Martinez Guzman was arrested on January 19, 2019, and a Washoe County grand jury indicted him on four counts of murder.

Last May, the Nevada Supreme Court ordered a Washoe County judge to dismiss charges related to Douglas County because the Reno grand jury lacked jurisdiction to indict him for those crimes. Still pending at the time of the plea agreement in October, a defense motion declared Martinez Guzman ineligible for the death penalty due to his limited mental capacity.

Martinez Guzman shot all of the victims with a .22 caliber revolver he stole from the Davids’ barn on their ranch property in southwest Reno days earlier, prosecutors said.

Steve David, their son, said his father told him someone had broken into their barn several times and he suspected the thief was a landscaper he had fired in July 2018.

Other family members who testified on Monday recounted the couple’s boundless generosity, including teaching underprivileged children and paying some of their medical bills.

Sherri Perry, named after her aunt, said she and others considered their ranch a second home, a refuge from outside troubles while growing up.

“We called it ‘Aunt Sherri and Uncle Jerry’s home for wayward teenagers,'” she said.

“They used to take us when we were too much to handle,” said Perry, who recalls Uncle Jerry taking her to father-daughter dances because she didn’t have any. “If I hadn’t had this, I don’t know what would have happened to my life.”

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