RENO, Nev. (AP) — A Salvadoran immigrant agreed Thursday to plead guilty to all crimes in the killing of four Nevada residents as part of a deal with prosecutors that will spare him from two death penalty trials and put him in prison for the rest of his life with no possibility of appeals or parole.
Wilber Ernesto Martinez Guzman, 22, 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.
In addition to four consecutive life terms with no possibility of parole, Martinez Guzman faces a minimum of another 214 years in prison for multiple burglary, larceny, weapons and possession of stolen property charges under the plea agreement outlined in court.
“He will never be free,” Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks said about the deal unveiled just before a status hearing was scheduled Thursday morning.
Hicks told reporters after the two-hour hearing that the decision to drop pursuit of the death penalty came as a result of a direct appeal from families of the victims who didn’t want the case to continue for years longer.
“They shared a collective request for closure and finality in the case,” Hicks said. “As a result of his pleas, there will not be decades of appeals that have become common in death penalty litigation.”
Douglas County District Attorney Mark Jackson added: “They want this nightmare to end. They want justice.”
Larry David, a son of the Reno couple, joined the prosecutors at the news conference to express his family’s full support for the decision.
Martinez Guzman told police he committed the series of break-ins, thefts and shootings over a three-week stretch because he needed money to buy methamphetamine.
Steinheimer told Martinez Guzman on Thursday if he fails to plead guilty in Douglas County, prosecutors there and Washoe County can void his plea deal and again seek the death penalty. Martinez Guzman also has agreed to plead guilty to multiple burglary and possession of stolen property charges in Carson City. The judge tentatively set sentencing for Feb. 28.
Speaking through a Spanish interpreter, Martinez Guzman responded to dozens of questions from the judge intended to establish that he was making an informed decision to plead guilty based on his own choice and understanding of the law.
“I spoke with my attorneys and understand after I plead, I will spend the rest of my life in prison,” Martinez Guzman said. “I believe it is the best way to close my case … It makes it so they remove the death penalty.”
Public defender John Arrascada assured Steinheimer Martinez Guzman’s decision was his own.
Hicks and Jackson initially planned one death penalty trial for Martinez Guzman in Reno, 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 jail 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 an 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. Authorities said he was in the country illegally but they didn’t how or when he arrived.
Associated Press reporter Ken Ritter in Las Vegas contributed to this report.