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Diaz confession goes to high court

Maricela Diaz

PIERRE -- State prosecutors have filed a request to appeal a judge's decision that tossed out an alleged killer's confession.

The confession is from Maricela Diaz, who is accused of killing 16-year-old Jasmine Guevara, of Mitchell, in November 2009.

In court documents filed Nov. 21, Deputy Attorney General Robert Mayer asks the South Dakota Supreme Court to reconsider a ruling by Judge Tim Bjorkman that bars 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 18.

"The inappropriate suppression of (Diaz's) statements significantly damages the state's case," the petition says.

Bjorkman found Diaz had not waived her Miranda rights prior to being questioned by investigators, and that the importance of her Miranda rights had been downplayed by investigators. The ruling was issued Aug. 28, just weeks before the case was scheduled to go to trial.

To show Bjorkman made a mistake in issuing the ruling, state prosecutors must show Diaz "voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently" waived her Miranda rights, the petition says.

The prosecution argues investigators properly advised Diaz of her Miranda rights because they were read to her twice in English and once in Spanish, and she was told three times of her right to an attorney, four times of her right to remain silent and four times that anything she said could be used against her in court, the petition says.

"Diaz completely comprehended her rights and the gravity of the situation," the petition says.

The prosecution claims Diaz did not hesitate or act confused when she indicated she understood her rights.

"In fact, at one point the officers had to stop Diaz from talking until all the rights were fully explained," the petition says.

After being advised she could be charged as an adult, the petition says Diaz asked investigators to continue the questioning in Spanish so she wouldn't get confused and "say too much or too little."

"Even though she is young in age, Diaz's waiver (of her Miranda rights) was a calculated, experienced, intelligent, understanding and voluntary decision," the petition says.

While much of the police interview with Diaz is recorded, her alleged confession is not. According to information in Bjorkman's ruling and the petition, a new audio/video system that had recently been installed at the Mitchell Police Division shut off after four continuous hours, as it was programmed to do, and went unnoticed by interrogators for approximately 96 minutes.

"Ultimately, Diaz confessed to taking part in the planning, stabbing, burning and murder of Jasmine," the petition says.

The defense's response to the prosecution's petition is due Friday. Prosecutors also requested a stay of any other proceedings in the case until the appeal is decided.

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

Diaz is accused of luring Guevara to a rural area and then stabbing her and leaving her in the trunk of a burning vehicle. In a signed plea agreement, Salgado admitted to participating in the murder and to holding Guevara's head while Diaz cut into her neck.

After being moved from juvenile court to adult court, Diaz was indicted on Aug. 5, 2011, on six charges related to the crime, including first-degree murder.

Investigators said Diaz, who has a child with Salgado, was jealous of a developing relationship between Salgado and Guevara. Salgado has said he will not testify against Diaz and threatened violence if brought to court.

Diaz could face life in prison if convicted but, because of her age at the time of the crime, cannot be sentenced to death. And even though she could face life in prison, she cannot face a mandatory life sentence without parole because of a recent federal Supreme Court decision.