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Attorneys seek to move Diaz murder trial

Murder defendant Maricela Diaz leaves court in August 2011. (Republic file photo)

ALEXANDRIA -- Attorneys representing the 17-yearold girl accused of the premeditated murder of a 16-yearold Mitchell girl have asked a judge to move the trial out of Hanson County.

Maricela Nicolasa Diaz, of Fort Wayne, Ind., and Guanajuato, Mexico, pleaded not guilty in adult court in August 2011 to charges related to the November 2009 murder of Jasmine Guevara in Hanson County.

Diaz's attorneys, Chris Nipe and Doug Dailey, both of whom work out of Mitchell, filed a pretrial motion March 20 for a change of venue that, if granted, would move the trial to another county. Both attorneys are court-appointed.

The attorneys claim Hanson County jurors would not be impartial due to the "significant attention" they say Diaz's case has attracted in the local media. The motion claims the "media coverage has stirred significant excitement in the community as the offense of murder is quite uncommon, especially as this incident involved a juvenile victim."

The conviction of Alexander Salgado, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in August 2010 in connection with Guevara's death, is also referenced in documents relating to the motion. Salgado is serving a life sentence at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls.

The investigation into the murder concluded Guevara was lured into rural Hanson County under false pretenses and stabbed, and her body was left in a burning vehicle.

Should presiding Judge Timothy Bjorkman deny the request for change of venue, attorneys Nipe and Daily will request a research firm be hired at Hanson County's expense to conduct a public opinion survey. The survey would determine whether Hanson County residents would be biased as jurors.

Diaz was indicted in August 2011 for first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, first-degree felony murder regarding allegations of arson, first-degree arson, first-degree felony murder regarding allegations of kidnapping, and second-degree aggravated kidnapping.

She faces a mandatory life sentence for each murder charge, but is not eligible for the death penalty because she is younger than 18.

Other pretrial motions filed by Diaz's attorneys last month include three motions to hire expert witnesses in DNA analysis, blood splatter and sexual abuse, and another requesting the court rule a mandatory life sentence in this case would violate the Eighth Amendment prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment.

Bjorkman has ordered Diaz "truthfully and candidly" answer all questions asked of her during a pretrial psychological examination. Court documents state she was previously advised by her attorneys not to answer any questions regarding the night of the alleged murder, other than what she was thinking or feeling.

Diaz's trial is scheduled to begin June 12 and set to last three weeks. Diaz has until May 7 to change her plea.