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Diaz sentenced to 80 years in prison for murder, kidnapping

Maricela Diaz is escorted out of the Hanson County Courthouse by Hanson County Sheriff Randy Bartlett after being sentenced for 80 years on Friday afternoon in Alexandria. Diaz was found guilty in January for the murder and kidnapping of Jasmine Guevara that occurred in 2009.. (Matt Gade/Republic)1 / 2
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ALEXANDRIA — Before she received an 80-year prison sentence, Maricela Diaz got down on her knees in the courtroom and pleaded to the judge.

“I ask you, your honor, please have mercy on me,” Diaz said.

Diaz, 20, appeared in the Hanson County Courthouse on Friday morning shackled at the ankles and wrists for her role in murdering a 16-year-old Mitchell girl five years ago.

She was convicted in January for the murder of Jasmine Guevara, who was stabbed and burned alive in November 2009.

Hanson County State’s Attorney Jim Davies asked Judge Tim Bjorkman to sentence Diaz to 100 years in prison. If that was not possible, he asked for at least 50 years when considering parole.

“Make her spend about the same amount of time in prison that Jasmine would have continued to live on a normal life span,” Davies said. “She took Jasmine’s life. She’s got to pay the price.”

Bjorkman spoke to Diaz before sentencing her after a three-hour hearing.

“Miss Diaz, what you did to Jasmine Guevara was wanton. It was chilling. It was almost unspeakably beyond the boundaries of human decency,” Bjorkman said. “When you and Alexander Salgado entered her life, this young woman bought you food, she provided you transportation, she even bought the lighter fluid to start the bonfire in which you burned her body alive. You repaid her kindness with the worst kind of evil. And you did it, you did it, for no reason.”

Bjorkman sentenced Diaz to 80 years in prison on count 1 of first-degree murder and 50 years on count 6 of second-degree aggravated kidnapping. Diaz was convicted on three counts of murder on Jan. 15 of the murder of Guevara at the end of a two-week trial. Bjorkman could only rule on one count of murder.

The sentences will run concurrently, or at the same time, and Bjorkman gave her credit for the time she has already served in juvenile detention and jail since she turned 18. She was put in custody on Nov. 12, 2009.

Bjorkman also fined Diaz $25,000 for the murder count and Diaz must pay $208 in court costs and repay court appointed attorney fees. The Guevara family has about a month to file a restitution request.

In November 2009, Diaz and her then-boyfriend Alexander Salgado were arrested and charged with the murder of Guevara. Salgado was convicted in 2010 when he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Diaz saw Guevara as a rival love interest and plotted with Salgado to kill Guevara. Diaz and Salgado came to Mitchell from Indiana a short time prior to killing Guevara. The night of the murder, Nov. 10, 2009, Diaz and Salgado asked Guevara for a ride to Walmart under the pretense to buy lighter fluid and have a bonfire.

Guevara drove them to Walmart, purchased the lighter fluid and drove them to a remote location in Hanson County, where Diaz and Salgado stabbed Guevara and burned her body in the trunk of her own car.

Throughout sentencing Friday, Diaz remained mostly stoic. A few times, she could be seen wiping away tears during testimony from Ada Morales, Guevara’s mother, and Ada Guevara, Jasmine’s sister, and during her own statement.

When considering his sentence, Judge Bjorkman had to consider Diaz’s age, maturity level and ability to be rehabilitated, among other issues. He noted the murder wasn’t only a crime against the Guevara family, but against the community.

“This crime in particular crossed the bounds of all human decency,” Bjorkman said. “It simply shredded the dignity of human life that this community holds dear.”

An apology Diaz spoke briefly prior to being sentenced. She stood, shackled, behind the defendant’s table.

“I would like to say I’m really, really sorry for the death of Jasmine,” Diaz said, choking up. “I’m really sorry for what the family is going through. Every time I sit in court, I can feel their pain. It breaks my heart seeing how much they’re suffering.”

Diaz added she often prays at night, trying to speak with Guevara, asking her forgiveness.

Diaz said she was not fully responsible for Guevara’s death, but said she admits she is responsible “for the role I played.”

“I know she was a nice person. She was really nice to me,” Diaz said. “I just hope one day Jasmine’s family will be able to forgive me for the part I played in Jasmine’s murder.”

Testimony The defense called witnesses to talk about how Diaz changed since her incarceration in 2009. Sarah Drennan, a counselor and advocate with Reclaiming Youth International, spoke about Diaz’s transformation from a “shy, down-trodden, extremely naive” little girl to a confident, mature young woman.

Drennan said she never saw Diaz get angry or be disrespectful while in detention and jail. Rather, Diaz wanted to find outlets to give back because she couldn’t give back Guevara’s life.

“She was really desperate to somehow tell the Guevara family how horrible she felt,” Drennan said.

Jeffrey LeMair, a caseworker for Minnehaha County Juvenile Detention Center, also said Diaz was quiet when he first met her and had the maturity level of a middle-schooler. During her two-year, 10-month stay at the detention center, LeMair said Diaz was not violent or a threat. LeMair said he saw Diaz become an assertive individual, rather than a passive non-assertive person.

“I know Maricela is not here for being a choir girl,” LeMair said. “She’s also been raped literally and figuratively in society. She has a distorted sense of self-worth and recognition, and yet through counseling, support and literally time and maturity, she’s learned to be a loving, yet lonely, mother. She longs to be a productive citizen.”

Diaz’s family also attended her sentencing, including her 5-year-old daughter, whose father is Salgado.

Diaz’s mother, Irma Gutierrez Plasensia, spoke briefly on the stand through a Spanish interpreter.

“I feel very bad for what happened to Jasmine. I feel very bad for what’s happening to her family,” Plasensia said. “I’m also very sad for the girl, daughter of Maricela. She cries a lot for her mother, asks for her a lot.”

Plasensia pleaded for her daughter’s release to give her an opportunity to raise her own daughter and “fulfill her dreams of becoming a doctor.”

‘A living hell’ Guevara’s sister, Ada Guevara, called the last five years “a living hell.” From the night Jasmine Guevara went missing to the day law enforcement confirmed her death to all the moments in between and since then.

“We didn’t only lose Jasmine, we lost a piece of ourselves,” Ada Guevara said. “We buried a part of us with her, too. We’re not the same people we used to be.”

Ada Guevara showed a slideshow of pictures of her sister from birth to just prior to her death and periodically looked at Diaz as the pictures flashed on a large television. Diaz often kept her gaze down.

“Maricela. Look at them,” Ada Guevara said. Diaz looked at the screen and wiped away tears as the slideshow continued.

Ada Morales spoke about her daughter’s infectious personality, laugh and smile, and the pain it causes knowing she’ll never see Jasmine Guevara go to prom, graduate high school or college, get married and have her own life.

“There is no magic pill for me to take for somebody to take this pain away from my heart,” Morales said. “My heart is broken in thousands of pieces.”

‘Jasmine has received justice’ The prosecution and Guevara’s family were pleased with Bjorkman’s sentence for Diaz.

“Jasmine has received justice,” said Bob Mayer, assistant South Dakota attorney general. “I’m excited for her family and friends. It’s an appropriate sentence.”

Morales said she and her family feel relief that justice has been finally achieved for her daughter.

Defense attorney Chris Nipe asked Bjorkman in his closing argument to sentence Diaz to 25 years in prison with 15 years suspended. His described Diaz as a young, naive, abused girl who was under Salgado’s control at the time of the murder. He and co-defense attorney Doug Dailey were disappointed in the sentence, but understood the severity of the crime outweighed their request.

The team plans to appeal Bjorkman’s judgment. They have 30 days to file an appeal.