A Salvadoran immigrant has been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for the murders of two of the four northern Nevadans he admitted killing in a plea deal that spared him from a death penalty trial
RENO, Nev. — A Salvadoran immigrant has been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for the murders of two of the four Nevada residents he admitted killing in a plea deal that spared him from a death penalty trial.
A Washoe County district judge sentenced Wilber Ernesto Martinez Guzman, 23, on Monday for the fatal shootings of an elderly Reno couple during a two-week crime rampage in January 2019.
He’s scheduled to be sentenced Thursday in Douglas County for the killings of two Gardnerville women and on Friday in Carson City on charges related to property he stole from his victims and sold at a pawn shop there.
Martinez Guzman, who authorities say entered the U.S. illegally at age 16, pleaded guilty to all the crimes last year after prosecutors announced they had agreed to a plea-bargain agreement in October.
Martinez Guzman had worked as a landscaper for all 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 terms without parole, he faces more than 200 years in prison for multiple burglary, larceny, weapons and stolen property charges.
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. He invited the Davids’ daughter and great-granddaughter to attend his State of the Union address as his guests in February 2019.
Washoe County District Attorney Chris Hicks said the decision to drop pursuit of the death penalty last fall came as a result of a direct appeal from families of the victims who didn’t want the case to continue for years longer.
“I’m happy that he’ll spend the rest of his life in prison and I hope that he spends all of that time thinking about what these family members told him today,” Hicks told the Reno Gazette Journal after Judge Connie Steinheimer sentenced him Monday in Reno.
The judge heard testimony from family of the Davids, who were well known in the Reno Rodeo community. Both served on the rodeo association board and Jerry was a past president.
One of his rodeo belt buckles that Martinez Guzman sold at the Carson City pawn shop provided a key clue in the early stages of the investigation of the string of killings that had the community on edge for weeks.
Kari Powning, the Davids’ granddaughter, said she still becomes distraught whenever she sees a Reno Rodeo license plate.
“It is humanly impossible to suffer a tragedy of this magnitude and ever by the same,” Powning testified.
Prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty shortly after Martinez Guzman was arrested on Jan. 19, 2019, and a Washoe County grand jury indicted him on four murder counts.
Last May, the Nevada Supreme Court ordered a Washoe County judge to dismiss the charges related to Douglas County because the grand jury in Reno lacked proper jurisdiction to indict him for those crimes. Still pending at the time of the plea deal in October was a defense motion to declare Martinez Guzman ineligible for the death penalty based on his limited mental capacity.
Martinez Guzman shot all 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 that he suspected the thief was a landscaper he’d fired in July 2018.
Other family members who testified 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 safe haven from outside troubles while growing up.
“We called it `Aunt Sherri and Uncle Jerry’s Home for Wayward Teens,’” she said.
“They would take us in when we were too much to handle,” said Perry, who remembers Uncle Jerry took her to father-daughter dances because she didn’t have one. “If I hadn’t had that, I don’t know what would happen to my life.”