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State v. Diaz

Supreme Court of South Dakota

November 22, 2016

STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA, Plaintiff and Appellee,
MARICELA DIAZ, Defendant and Appellant.

          ARGUED ON OCTOBER 3, 2016


          MARTY J. JACKLEY Attorney General PAUL S. SWEDLUND Assistant Attorney General Pierre, South Dakota Attorneys for plaintiff and appellee.

          CHRIS A. NIPE Mitchell, South Dakota and DOUGLAS M. DAILEY Mitchell, South Dakota Attorneys for defendant and appellant.


         [¶1.] Defendant appeals her conviction of the 2009 murder and kidnapping of Jasmine Guevara. Defendant, a juvenile at the time of the crime, challenges the transfer of her case to adult court, this Court's previous decision reversing the suppression of statements she made to law enforcement, the circuit court's instructions on imminent fear, and her 80-year sentence with no time suspended. We affirm.


         [¶2.] On November 10, 2009, law enforcement officers and firefighters responded to a vehicle fire in a wooded area of Hanson County near Mitchell, South Dakota. After extinguishing the fire, they discovered a badly burned body in the vehicle's trunk, later identified as 16-year-old Jasmine Guevara. The autopsy revealed that Guevara had been burned alive.

         [¶3.] After tracking the ownership of the vehicle to Guevara, law enforcement reached out to the public for any information on Guevara's whereabouts on November 10, 2009. A citizen witness relayed that she had seen Guevara at Walmart with two Hispanic individuals. The tip led officers to Alexander Salgado and Maricela Diaz. Salgado and Diaz had arrived in Mitchell from Indiana the month before, in October 2009. Diaz was 15 years old; Salgado was 21 years old. Diaz and Salgado, who were in a relationship with each other, were staying in Mitchell with an acquaintance, Steffany Molina.

         [¶4.] On November 12, 2009, Investigators Joel Reinesch and Dean Knippling located Diaz and Salgado at Molina's house. The two agreed to go with the officers to the Mitchell Police Department. At the police department, Investigator Toby Russell attempted to obtain identifying information from Diaz so he could contact Diaz's parents. Diaz gave Investigator Russell false information multiple times. Investigator Russell eventually contacted Diaz's mother, Irma Gutierez-Placencia. Officer Hector Soto of the Sioux Falls Police Department spoke with Gutierez-Placencia in Spanish and obtained Gutierez-Placencia's consent to talk to Diaz.

         [¶5.] The officers returned to the interview room and informed Diaz that her mother had given them permission to question her. Investigator Russell told Diaz her Miranda rights in English, but Diaz indicated she did not understand what was being said. Diaz spoke limited English. She had emigrated with her mother from Mexico to Indiana when she was 11 years old. Officer Soto then told Diaz her rights in Spanish. Diaz agreed to speak to the officers. For a more extensive description of Diaz's waiver of her Miranda rights, see State v. Diaz (Diaz I), 2014 S.D. 27, 847 N.W.2d 144. In a separate interview room, Salgado also waived his Miranda rights and agreed to speak to the officers.

         [¶6.] Diaz informed the officers that shortly after arriving in Mitchell, she and Salgado met Molina's neighbor, Guevara. Neither Diaz nor Salgado was employed. Diaz explained that Guevara helped Diaz and Salgado with money, food, clothing, and transportation, and gave them tips for finding jobs. Guevara would also hang out with Diaz and Salgado. But Diaz suspected Salgado and Guevara had romantic interests in each other. Diaz told the officers that she and Salgado made a plan to kill Guevara and burn all the evidence. She said the plan originated with Salgado and she cooperated because she was mad at and afraid of Salgado. Diaz also claimed that Salgado agreed to kill Guevara to prove his love to Diaz.

         [¶7.] Diaz told the officers that on the day of Guevara's murder, Diaz asked Guevara to give Diaz and Salgado a ride to Walmart to purchase lighter fluid. Diaz and Salgado told Guevara that the lighter fluid was for a cookout and invited Guevara to attend with them. Before Guevara picked them up at Molina's house, Diaz and/or Salgado hid two kitchen knives within their clothing. After Guevara purchased the lighter fluid at Walmart for Diaz and Salgado, Diaz and Salgado told Guevara to drive to an area referred to as the "haunted house" in rural Hanson County.

         [¶8.] Diaz claimed that it was Salgado's idea that he would get out of the car at the haunted house and Diaz was to start the murder. Salgado disagreed that the murder was his idea. He claimed that Diaz wanted Salgado's help to kill Guevara to prove his love for Diaz. Salgado told the officers that after he exited the vehicle, he returned to the car when he heard Guevara screaming. Diaz claimed that she attempted to stab Guevara, but was unable to follow through. She said Salgado entered the car and grabbed Diaz's knife from her. Diaz also said that her knife broke and Salgado used his own knife. Salgado, however, said that Diaz stabbed Guevara. He admitted that he also stabbed Guevara. Diaz claimed that after Salgado stabbed Guevara in the neck, he picked her up and put her in the trunk of the vehicle. He doused Guevara with lighter fluid. Salgado claimed that Diaz helped him get Guevara into the trunk. It is undisputed that Guevara was still alive when Salgado and/or Diaz set the vehicle ablaze. Guevara ultimately died of smoke inhalation.

         [¶9.] Diaz told the officers that, after setting the vehicle on fire, Diaz and Salgado walked approximately eight miles to Molina's house. Diaz threw the gloves she was wearing into a ditch while they were walking and she tossed her sweatshirt on the railroad tracks in Mitchell. Diaz claimed Salgado threw Guevara's phone in a river. Once they arrived at Molina's house, Diaz and Salgado washed themselves and used bleach on their hands to remove the blood stains. According to Molina, Diaz and Salgado acted normally that night at home.

         [¶10.] Ultimately, law enforcement arrested Salgado and Diaz for the kidnapping and murder of Guevara. Salgado pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and agreed to testify against Diaz as part of his plea agreement. On November 17, 2009, the State charged Diaz in juvenile court with first-degree murder, first-degree murder-felony murder: arson, and first-degree arson. Diaz moved to suppress her statements to law enforcement. After a hearing, the juvenile court denied Diaz's motion.

         [¶11.] The State moved to transfer Diaz's case to adult court. At the transfer hearing, Salgado testified against Diaz. He explained that he first met Diaz through Diaz's brothers. Salgado was 19 years old; Diaz was 13 years old. Salgado testified about their relationship. He offered that he did not hit Diaz at first, but after he learned that she cheated on him, he got angry and hit Diaz. Salgado tried to end the relationship. He claimed Diaz said she would rather be dead than be without him and tried to kill herself. Salgado admitted that he was in the bathroom with Diaz while she tried to cut her wrists. Salgado helped her cut her wrists and then left her bleeding in the bathroom. Salgado knew Diaz was pregnant. Others found Diaz and took her to the hospital. Salgado explained that he went to the hospital and renewed their relationship. After this incident, and because Diaz was pregnant, child protection services in Indiana became involved and directed Diaz and Diaz's family that Diaz was to stay away from Salgado. Salgado testified that Diaz defied her mother and child protection services. Diaz would skip school and sneak out of her house to see Salgado.

         [¶12.] In July 2009, Diaz gave birth to Salgado's baby. Diaz was 14 years old. After their baby was born, Diaz and Salgado lived together in Salgado's mother's home. Salgado again physically abused Diaz. He testified that Diaz tried to kill herself and cut her wrists again. According to Salgado, Diaz thought Salgado was cheating on her and moved back into her mother's home. She and Salgado continued to spend time with each other. At some point, Salgado's mother kicked him out of her home, and Salgado told Diaz that he was going to leave Indiana for a job, and he would send her money. According to Salgado, Diaz said she would kill herself if Salgado left without her. Salgado let Diaz go with him. They planned to travel to Mitchell, South Dakota by bus.

         [¶13.] Salgado testified that Molina picked them up at the bus station in Mitchell in October 2009. According to Salgado, Diaz became jealous of Salgado looking at Molina at the bus station and she yelled at him. Diaz also became jealous of Salgado's interactions with Guevara. They had met Guevara their first night in Mitchell when Molina hosted a party. Salgado testified that he and Diaz would physically fight because of Diaz's jealousy. One fight occurred two nights before Guevara's murder. Diaz, Salgado, Molina, and Guevara were together at Guevara's boyfriend's house for a party. Diaz had accused Salgado of looking at Guevara, and Diaz tried to punch him and hit him with her elbows. She then yelled at Guevara and wanted to fight her. Diaz eventually calmed down and they all left the party.

         [¶14.] The next morning, Diaz suspected Salgado was talking to Guevara outside a pawn shop. According to Salgado, Diaz threatened to fight and kill Guevara. Salgado testified that he did not believe Diaz. He explained that the next day Diaz repeated that she planned to kill Guevara. Salgado testified that he and Diaz watched "A Thousand and One Ways to Die" on television that evening. According to Salgado, the show described how to get rid of evidence by burning someone in the trunk of a car. Salgado testified that Diaz said that she would burn Guevara in the trunk of a car. Salgado explained that he agreed to help Diaz because he felt that if he did not Diaz would believe Salgado was sticking up for Guevara and become more jealous. Salgado then testified in detail regarding the murder of Guevara.

         [¶15.] In opposition to the State's motion to transfer her case to adult court, Diaz's counsel had asked Reclaiming Youth International (RYI) to perform a developmental audit on Diaz and make a recommendation to the juvenile court whether Diaz's best interests would be served in the juvenile or adult system. The State asked Dr. Travis Hansen to evaluate Diaz and generate a report containing his psychiatric findings. The State also requested that Dr. Donald Dutton examine Diaz and review RYI's report. Dr. Dutton specializes in domestic violence. These and other expert witnesses testified about Diaz's mental state, her youth, the fact she was a victim of sexual abuse by Salgado, and about the rehabilitative potential of the State's juvenile and adult prison systems.

         [¶16.] In the juvenile court's written findings, it noted the discrepancies in Diaz's statements to law enforcement, RYI, Dr. Hansen, and Dr. Dutton. Despite the conflicting evidence, the court found undisputed that Diaz exhibited a premeditated plan to kill Guevara. The court disagreed that Diaz acted against her will or that Diaz was under duress. Although the report from RYI maintained that Salgado had dominion over and control of Diaz and that Diaz experienced "trauma" because of her relationship with Salgado, the court found more persuasive the statements Diaz made to Drs. Dutton and Hansen. The court wrote,

Notably, [Diaz] only told Dr. Bean and the RYI team that Salgado forced her to help with the murder. In her interviews with Dr. Hansen, Dr. Dutton, and law enforcement, [Diaz] said that the plan originated with Salgado. She did not state, however, that he forced her to assist him. Salgado's acknowledged responsibility for Jasmine's murder does not obviate the fact that [Diaz], at the very least, aided Salgado in the planning and was an active participant in the murder itself.

         The court concluded that Diaz was not under Salgado's control at the time of the murder. The court also concluded that the prosecutive merit against Diaz was substantial. In consideration of Dr. Hansen's and Dr. Dutton's testimony, the RYI developmental audit, Diaz's statements to law enforcement, and other witness testimony, the court found that it would be contrary to Diaz's best interests and the public to retain jurisdiction in juvenile court.

          [¶17.] In June 2011, the court granted the State's motion to transfer Diaz to adult court. On October 14, 2011, Diaz moved the circuit court to vacate the transfer order because Diaz discovered that one of the State's experts, Dr. Dutton, had been accused of sexually assaulting a student. After a hearing, the court denied Diaz's motion. In adult court, a Hanson County grand jury indicted Diaz on six counts: (1) first-degree murder, (2) conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, (3) first-degree murder-felony murder (arson), (4) first-degree arson, (5) first-degree murder-felony murder (kidnapping), and (6) second-degree aggravated kidnapping. Diaz pleaded not guilty to all charges.

         [¶18.] Diaz again moved to suppress the statements she made to law enforcement. The court granted Diaz's request to reconsider the juvenile court's suppression decision and, after a hearing, granted Diaz's motion to suppress the statements. The court concluded that Diaz did not knowingly and intelligently waive her Miranda rights. In November 2012, the State filed a petition for an intermediate appeal, which this Court granted. In May 2014, this Court in a divided decision reversed the circuit court's suppression of Diaz's statements. Diaz I, 2014 S.D. 27, 847 N.W.2d 144.

         [¶19.] A jury trial began on December 29, 2014, and concluded on January 15, 2015. Over thirty witnesses testified. Nick Rehorst of the Alexandria Fire Department testified about responding to the fire call, extinguishing the fire, and locating Guevara's body in the vehicle's trunk. Two witnesses testified about surveillance footage from Walmart capturing Diaz, Salgado, and Guevara at Walmart on November 10. The jury observed the footage in conjunction with the witness testimony. Multiple officers testified and explained their roles in the investigation. These roles included: identifying the owner of the car; speaking to Guevara's mother and boyfriend; speaking to witnesses who observed Diaz, Salgado, and Guevara at Walmart; searching for evidence from the scene; obtaining evidence from Diaz's person; obtaining evidence to identify Guevara's DNA; performing DNA testing on the evidence obtained; seizing and securing the vehicle for inspection; etc.

         [¶20.] Special Agent James Severson testified that he recovered Guevara's cell phone in the river and Diaz's gloves and hooded sweatshirt on the route Salgado and Diaz walked from the fire to Mitchell. Kevin Winer, the Chief Criminalist Supervisor at the Kansas City Police Department Crime Lab, testified about the bloodstain patterns on two sweatshirts recovered during the investigation. One sweatshirt belonged to Diaz and the other to Salgado. A blood stain pattern, according to Winer, is "a grouping of individual bloodstains that either by their shape, their form, their location, their distribution, suggests they were deposited by a single event or a series of events overlapping one another." Winer then described the different types of bloodstain patterns and the indications gleaned from those patterns.

         [¶21.] Winer testified that the DNA testing indicated that the bloodstains on the two sweatshirts were from Guevara. In regard to Diaz's sweatshirt, Winer testified that the front of the sweatshirt contained five or six spatter bloodstains. The left sleeve on the front side contained either a spatter stain or a transfer stain. A transfer stain, according to Winer, is "a bloody object coming in contact with a surface[.]" A spatter stain is:

a general term that's used to describe blood that has traveled through the air and landed on a surface. . . . It's not blood that's just simply falling down due to the force of gravity. There's some other force involved that propels it through the air and lands on a surface.

         Winer also noticed additional transfer stains indicating "some wiping or swiping action that's taking place; again, evidence of a bloody object coming in contact with a surface, or multiple different bloody objects." The left cuff of the same sleeve, on the palm side, also contained a transfer stain. Winer testified in regard to certain stains on the back of Diaz's sweatshirt and could not opine conclusively if the stains were transfer or spatter. On the back elbow, however, Winer testified that the sweatshirt contained a transfer stain.

         [¶22.] Based on Winer's examination of Diaz's sweatshirt, he concluded that "there's evidence of the - - presumably, the wearer of this garment coming in contact or manipulating one or more bloody objects, leaving the bloodstains behind in a transfer mechanism or a swipe and wipe[.]" In regard to the spatter stains, Winer opined that "[y]ou can tell that these were dropped - - or deposited due to the force of - - some force propelling them through the air and landing on the garment, but the specific type of mechanism cannot be determined."

         [¶23.] Investigator Russell and Officer Soto testified about their interrogation of Diaz and Diaz's incriminating statements. Investigator Russell testified that Diaz appeared calm and not afraid. He attempted to explain Diaz's rights to her, but she indicated she did not understand. Officer Soto testified that after being informed of her rights in Spanish, Diaz waived them. He believed Diaz felt more comfortable speaking in Spanish and the questioning continued in Spanish. Officer Soto testified that Diaz did not claim that she was threatened by Salgado or that she was afraid of him. She also never claimed to have been held captive by Salgado. According to Officer Soto, when he began pointing out discrepancies in Diaz's statements, Diaz changed her story. He began to ask Diaz more in-depth questions and Diaz responded by answering more slowly, in a "more calculated" manner. Officer Soto could tell that Diaz was a bit more nervous and, based on his experience, she felt burdened. Officer Soto testified ...

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