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Cost of Guevara case tops $400,000

The court cases against Alexander Salgado, left, and Maricela Diaz, right, who are accused of the 2009 murder of 16-year-old Jasmine Guevara, have totaled more than $400,000. (Photos by Chris Huber/Republic)

ALEXANDRIA -- Justice, it seems, comes at a price.

After more than two and a half years in court, Hanson County has incurred more than $400,000 in expenses related to the 2009 murder of 16-year-old Jasmine Guevara, of Mitchell. And with one suspect in the case still awaiting trial, the expenses continue to pile up.

As of Aug. 3, when The Daily Republic acquired a detailed expense report from Hanson County Auditor Lesa Trabing, the total cost of the case was $402,550.35.

But, because the county is a member of the Catastrophic Legal Expense Relief Program, it will only have to pay a fraction of the legal costs associated with the case.

The county has already been reimbursed $285,641.80, Trabing reported.

CLERP is administered by the South Dakota Association of County Commissioners and acts as a risk-pool to protect its 58 member counties from incurring catastrophically high legal expenses from any one incident. Member counties are required to pay the first $25,000 in costs for a case, but the program pays for 90 percent of all costs beyond that.

"We're very pleased with the type of coverage we have," said Hanson County Commissioner Tom Bell. The county has been a member of the program since it began in 1992, Bell said, and has never considered leaving.

The funds for the program are collected annually in shares from the member counties. Each share is calculated using a formula that takes into account the population and assessed value of each member county.

The county has no qualms about paying into the program each year, Bell said.

"Especially when something like this happens," he added.

Kris Jacobsen, deputy director of the South Dakota Association of County Commissioners, said the cost of the Guevara case stands out with other expensive cases CLERP has been involved in, such as a 2006 case in Custer County involving two members of the Hells Angels who were eventually found not guilty of attempted murder after two years in court, and a 2007 case in Hyde County involving Ken Huber, a former Highmore police chief found guilty of murdering his wife.

The length of the Guevara case, along with the need for language interpreters and expert witnesses, is making it a costly one, Jacobsen said.

"It definitely adds up," she said.

Both Bell and Hanson County State's Attorney Jim Davies said the Guevara case is almost certainly the most expensive criminal case in the county's history.

It began on Nov. 10, 2009, when authorities discovered human remains in the trunk of a burned car in rural Hanson County. The remains were later identified as Guevara.

Two days later, 20-year-old Alexander Salgado and 15-year-old Maricela Diaz were arrested in connection with Guevara's death. Both were indicted on multiple charges accusing them of premeditated murder.

Salgado and Diaz had recently started residing in Mitchell after coming from Fort Wayne, Ind. Both had previously lived in Mexico.

According to a detailed affidavit written by a state investigator, Diaz and Salgado are believed to have lured Guevara to rural Hanson County under false pretenses. Once they arrived, Salgado left Diaz and Guevara in the car alone, and then heard screams as Diaz allegedly began repeatedly stabbing Guevara.

After hearing the screams, Salgado returned to the vehicle, the affidavit says, and aided Diaz in the attack, eventually cutting Guevara's throat.

Diaz and Salgado then allegedly lit the car on fire using lighter fluid purchased earlier that evening, the affidavit says.

The motive, the affidavit states, arose when Diaz and Salgado talked prior to the night of the murder and made plans to kill Guevara because Diaz was jealous of the friendship developing between Guevara and Salgado.

Salgado, now 23 years old, is serving a mandatory life sentence at the South Dakota State Penitentiary in Sioux Falls after pleading guilty to second-degree murder in August 2010.

In little more than nine months in the court system, the fees for Salgado's court-appointed attorneys totaled $42,525.21 -- an average of about $4,500 per month.

Before pleading guilty, Salgado was held at the Davison County Jail in between court appearances. To pay for his detention, Hanson County was billed a total of $18,720, or about $2,000 per month.

The now 17-year-old Diaz pleaded not guilty in adult court in August 2011 to multiple charges, including first-degree murder. With Diaz still awaiting trial, the expenses related to her case are still rising.

Through July 3, the cost of Diaz's court-appointed attorneys totaled $133,556.83. Though higher in total than the attorneys' fees for Salgado, the average cost per month is similar, at about $4,200.

For the duration of the case, Diaz has been held at the Minnehaha County Juvenile Detention Center in Sioux Falls. Through July 3, the cost of her detention is $129,640, or about $4,000 per month.

The cost of Diaz's legal defense and detention already total $263,196.83, making it more than 65 percent of the total cost of the case so far.

In addition to the attorney's fees and detention costs for Salgado and Diaz, the county has also incurred about $77,000 in other expenses related to the case. These costs include a forensic autopsy of the victim's body, a language interpreter hired for court proceedings, a psychologist hired to evaluate Diaz, the preparation of court transcripts and other minor court costs.

In July, a judge moved Diaz's trial out of Hanson County to Minnehaha County after her attorneys argued it would difficult to find impartial jurors in a relatively small jury pool in Hanson County, which has a population of 3,331 according to the 2010 census. The trial is scheduled to begin in September.