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Diaz pleads not guilty to 2009 murder of Guevara

Maricela Diaz is led out of the Hanson County Courthouse in August 2011 in Alexandria by Deputy Casey Tegethoff after an initial appearance for murder charges. (Chris Huber/Republic)

ALEXANDRIA -- The 16-year-old girl being tried as an adult for the murder of a Mitchell High School student pleaded not guilty to all charges Wednesday in Hanson County.

Maricela Nicolasa Diaz made her second appearance in adult court for the November 2009 murder of Jasmine Guevara. Attorney Chris Nipe, of Mitchell, entered the plea on behalf of Diaz. Diaz's other lawyer, Doug Dailey, also of Mitchell, was in attendance.

Diaz pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, first-degree arson, second-degree aggravated kidnapping, first-degree murder in connection with kidnapping, and first-degree murder in connection with arson.

Three of the counts are Class A felonies each punishable by a mandatory life sentence. Diaz is not eligible for the death penalty because she is younger than 18.

Appearing in a black shirt, blue jeans and blue low-cut shoes, the tops of which ended just below the leg shackles she wore for the hearing, Diaz said nothing during the proceeding except "Yes, your honor," in response to Judge Sean O'Brien's question about her ability to understand what had happened so far.

An interpreter will be brought in for all future court appearances to ensure Diaz fully understands the proceedings.

Behind her thick black hair that reached the middle of her back, Diaz appeared to cry briefly during the end of Wednesday's proceeding. At one point, Nipe rose and retrieved some facial tissue for her.

Until recently, Diaz was known only as M.D., a minor who allegedly masterminded a plan to kill 16-year-old Guevara.

An indictment unsealed Wednesday in court stated Diaz was charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder because she allegedly asked Guevara for a ride for herself and Alexander Salgado to Walmart to purchase lighter fluid "under the guise of having a cookout or bonfire."

Instead of a cookout, Diaz and Salgado allegedly planned to kill Guevara because Diaz believed Guevara and Salgado were romantically linked. Diaz and Salgado have a child together.

The very lighter fluid purchased on Nov. 10, 2009, was allegedly used to burn Guevara's car later that night after Diaz and Salgado stabbed Guevara and placed her in her trunk with a knife still in her throat.

Salgado pleaded guilty in 2010 to second-degree murder as part of a plea agreement with the state. He was sentenced to life in prison and is currently serving his sentence at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls.

He claimed Diaz planned the entire murder. After confessing to Guevara's murder, he still referred to Diaz as "sweetie" and "my love," according to court documents.

Diaz's trial has been set for March 2012.