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Maricela Diaz

Prosecution: Accused killer Diaz waived rights

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PIERRE -- An accused killer's confession should be reinstated because she clearly understood and waived her Miranda rights, state prosecutors say.

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The confession is that of Maricela Diaz, who is accused of killing 16-year-old Jasmine Guevara, of Mitchell, on Nov. 10, 2009, by stabbing her and placing her in the trunk of a burning car.

Diaz was 15 years old at the time of the alleged crime and is now 18. She was originally charged as as a juvenile but was moved to adult court.

First Circuit Judge Tim Bjorkman has excluded statements Diaz made to police during an interrogation on Nov. 12, 2009.

Bjorkman found Diaz's statements to police were voluntary, but he ruled she did not waive her Miranda rights prior to being questioned and also ruled that the importance of her Miranda rights was downplayed by investigating officers.

In January, the South Dakota Supreme Court agreed to hear the state's appeal of Bjorkman's ruling.

Both sides had already filed briefs for and against the appeal. In a new 17-page reply brief, the state responds to the defense's assertion that Diaz's confession should be thrown out because of missteps by law enforcement. Those alleged missteps include a claim that investigators used deceptive tactics to get Diaz to talk and did not tell her the true purpose of the interrogation.

The state argues Diaz was advised of her Miranda rights twice in English and once in Spanish, and was not confused about her rights and did not misunderstand why the officers were speaking with her.

"Obviously, she knew Jasmine had been murdered," the state's brief says. "The only confusion Diaz had was over the delay in talking about Jasmine."

The Miranda rights include the right to remain silent and have an attorney present. After being advised of her Miranda rights, the state's brief says, Diaz told the investigating officers that she wished to continue the interrogation in Spanish so she wouldn't "get confused and say too much or too little."

"Her election to continue in Spanish reveals that Diaz understood the gravity of her decision," the brief says, "and that she wanted to choose her words to law enforcement very carefully."

During the interrogation itself, Diaz lied numerous times to law enforcement, but expressed no confusion about why she was being questioned, the state's brief says, and Diaz never once asked to leave or to speak with her mother or an attorney.

According to court documents, prior to the alleged murder, Diaz and Alexander Salgado obtained knives with an intent to stab Guevara. Then, on Nov. 10, 2009, Diaz and Salgado had Guevara drive them to Walmart in Mitchell, where they had Guevara buy lighter fluid, with which Diaz and Salgado planned to burn Guevara.

Investigators obtained surveillance footage from Walmart and identified three individuals they believe to be Diaz, Salgado and Guevara together around 8 p.m. the night of the murder, court documents say.

"Only after the officers mentioned Walmart did Diaz confess," the state's brief says. "At that point, Diaz was sure law enforcement knew what happened and decided to be truthful."

According to court documents, Diaz came to Mitchell after she dropped out of high school in Fort Wayne, Ind., and fled to South Dakota with Salgado. Both were originally from Mexico and were in the United States illegally.

Diaz's age, immaturity and inexperience with law enforcement and the court system all contributed to her inability to knowingly waive her Miranda rights, according to her lawyers, Doug Dailey and Chris Nipe, both of Mitchell.

In their new response, state prosecutors reject that argument.

"Diaz was not a sheltered 15-year-old," the state's brief says, "but rather a street-smart, experienced individual that had effectively emancipated herself from her mother."

Salgado pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in August 2010 in connection with Guevara's death. He is serving a life sentence at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls.

Prosecutors initially sought the death penalty for Salgado. In a signed plea agreement that allowed him to escape death, he admitted to participating in the murder and to holding Guevara's head while Diaz cut into Guevara's neck. Guevara's body was then placed in the trunk of a car that was set on fire.

Investigators said Diaz, who has a child with Salgado, was jealous of a developing relationship between Salgado and Guevara. Salgado has said he will not testify against Diaz and threatened violence if brought to court.

The defense argues Diaz was being physically abused by Salgado and, in court documents, describes instances of abuse, including one in which Salgado allegedly cut one of Diaz's wrists, and another in which she allegedly cut her own wrists.

While most of Diaz's interrogation was recorded, her confession was not. A new audio/video system that had recently been installed at the Mitchell Police Division shut off after four continuous hours, as it was programmed to do, and went unnoticed by interrogators for approximately 96 minutes, according to court documents.

Prosecutors argue that the recording issue is no reason to suppress Diaz's statements.

"Diaz has offered no evidence to suggest that the unrecorded portion of the interview was intentional, coercive or inappropriate," the state's brief says.

The state asks the Supreme Court to reverse Bjorkman's decision and find Diaz knowingly and intelligently waived her Miranda rights.

The Supreme Court will issue a decision at a later date. Both sides have requested to present oral arguments to the Supreme Court.

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