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State seeks death penalty in Mitchell killing

Davison County Sheriff Dave Miles, left, and Hanson County Sheriff Mark Kessler, right, escort Alexander Salgado through a hallway of the Davison County Public Safety Center during a February court appearance. (Republic file photo)

Prosecutors in the slaying of a 16-year-old Mitchell girl announced Wednesday that they will seek the death penalty for one of her accused killers.

Alexander Salgado, 21, is charged with first-degree murder, felony murder and arson in the Nov. 10 death of Jasmine Guevara.

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley and Jim Davies, Hanson County state's attorney, said they will offer evidence of a death-eligible aggravating circumstance to the jury in recommending the death penalty.

The circumstance, prosecutors said, is that the killing was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved torture, depravity of intent or an aggravated battery to the victim.

Davies submitted a one-page notice of intent, which was filed Tuesday, to request a pre-sentence hearing before the jury if it finds Salgado guilty of either murder charge.

"That is one of those things you start thinking about from day one, in one sense or another," Davies said Wednesday of seeking the death penalty.

Davies declined to elaborate on which details of the killing met the aggravating circumstance, saying that would involve issues of evidence.

Salgado and a 15-year-old juvenile identified by authorities only as M.D. are accused of killing Guevara, placing her in the trunk of a car southeast of Mitchell in Hanson County and lighting the car on fire.

Salgado would become one of two murder suspects in the state against whom the death penalty is being sought. Ethan Johns, 21, of Marion, will stand trial in August in Sioux Falls, accused of fatally shooting Turner County Sheriff's Deputy Chad Mechels in March 2009.

Elijah Page, 25, was the most recent state prison inmate to be executed in South Dakota. He was put to death in July 2007 by lethal injection.

One of Salgado's attorneys, Mike Fink, of Bridgewater, said he and co-counsel Doug Papendick, of Mitchell, will argue against the death penalty.

"We don't think the death penalty would be appropriate if he's convicted," he said. "I know the arguments we will be using. I will not share those publicly."

Fink said defense attorneys and Salgado have known about prosecutors' intent for months.

"We now have a statement in writing (from prosecutors)," he said. "That is the new development."

Davies said he was not surprised to learn the defense will challenge the death penalty. He said he didn't know what potential arguments prosecutors might face from defense lawyers.

"The attorney general's office and I will deal with whatever comes up," he said.

Fink said a review hearing is scheduled for next month, but he did not indicate if the death penalty issue will be addressed then.

Davies said he does not know how soon after a verdict prosecutors could request a pre-sentence hearing on the death penalty if Salgado is found guilty of murder.

Fink did not anticipate that death penalty arguments would affect the trial schedule. Jury selection will begin in January, with the trial slated for three weeks, he said.