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Guevara murder goes to high court

The South Dakota Supreme Court will hear arguments later this month about whether to keep or throw out a confession in a local murder case.

Attorneys in the Maricela Diaz murder prosecution will present oral arguments to the justices Sept. 30 at Black Hills State University in Spearfish.

Diaz is accused -- along with Alexander Salgado, who’s already been convicted -- of killing 16-year-old Jasmine Guevara in November 2009 by stabbing her and placing her in the trunk of a burning car near Mitchell in a rural area of Hanson County. Diaz was 15 years old at the time of the crime and is now 19. She was originally charged as a juvenile but was moved to adult court.

She confessed to the crime during a lengthy interrogation, according to police, but the confession portion of the interrogation was not recorded.

In August 2012, Circuit Court Judge Tim Bjorkman tossed out Diaz’s confession. The state appealed that decision to the Supreme Court in January.

The defense claims Diaz did not understand her Miranda rights and claims her statements to law enforcement were involuntary and should be suppressed. They also claim Diaz wasn’t given an opportunity to speak with her mother, any other adult or the Mexican consulate. Diaz and Salgado were both Mexico natives in the U.S. illegally.

The defense also claims her age, immaturity and inexperience with law enforcement and the court system all contributed to her inability to knowingly waive her Miranda rights.

The prosecution claims Diaz’s confession was knowing, given that she asked to continue the interrogation in Spanish. Prosecutors say her request to do the interrogation in her native language “reveals that Diaz knew the gravity of her decision and that she wanted to choose her words to law enforcement carefully.”

The prosecution claims Diaz expressed no confusion and fully understood her Miranda rights, after they were read to her twice in English and once in Spanish.

The prosecution also claims Diaz was not a naive girl, “but rather a street-smart, experienced individual that had effectively emancipated herself from her mother.”