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'Significant' delay now expected in Diaz murder case

Marty Jackley

ALEXANDRIA -- South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said Friday his appeal of a thrown-out confession in the 2009 murder of a Mitchell girl is important enough to warrant a significant delay in the case.

"Based upon our review of the case law and review of the facts, we decided that this was a case that was important enough to warrant further review by the Supreme Court," he said Friday in an interview with The Daily Republic.

A ruling issued Tuesday by Judge Tim Bjorkman found investigators failed to properly inform Maricela Diaz, accused of killing 16-year-old Jasmine Guevara in November 2009, of her Miranda rights. The order prevents prosecutors from using any statements Diaz made to police after her arrest on Nov. 11, 2009. Diaz was 15 at the time of her alleged involvement in the crime and is now 17.

Diaz is accused of helping to lure Guevara to a rural area and then stabbing her and leaving her in the trunk of a burning vehicle. Investigators said Diaz, who has a child with Salgado, was jealous of a developing relationship between Salgado and Guevara. Salgado has recently declared he will not testify against Diaz and threatened violence if brought to court.

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

Diaz could face life in prison if convicted but, because of her age at the time of the crime, cannot be sentenced to death. Because of a recent federal Supreme Court decision, Diaz will not be eligible for a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.

"This case has taken a different path because (Diaz) was a juvenile at the time of the offense," Jackley said.

Jackley declined to say if he believed reaching a conviction in the case will now depend on a successful appeal of Bjorkman's decision.

"This is an important decision and piece of evidence," he said. "But there are a lot of different facts and circumstances and evidence involved in this case."

As the appeal process begins, attorneys for the defense and prosecution will prepare findings of fact and conclusions of law, meant to explain the facts of the case and how the judge reached his decision. Those will be submitted to Bjorkman , who will approve one or the other, or prepare his own. Whichever document is approved will become part of the case record to be reviewed by the state Supreme Court.

Once the Supreme Court receives the matter, it must first decide whether to hear it at all, and then decide whether to hear it immediately.

"We're talking a significant delay," Jackley said. Diaz's case was scheduled to go to trial Sept. 10 in Sioux Falls but has now been indefinitely continued because of the appeal.

"It's the intent of the state to move forward," Jackley said. "But at this point, we feel this is an important enough issue for our highest court."

Jackley declined to comment when asked if it is possible Diaz could go free as a result of the recent ruling.

"The ultimate decision will be for a jury," he said.