SD Supreme Court upholds Diaz sentence
The South Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the conviction of a Mitchell woman charged with kidnapping and murdering a teenage girl. On Wednesday, the South Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and sentence of 22-year-old Maricela Diaz, who w...
The South Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the conviction of a Mitchell woman charged with kidnapping and murdering a teenage girl.
On Wednesday, the South Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and sentence of 22-year-old Maricela Diaz, who was sentenced to 80 years in prison for first-degree murder and 50 years for felony murder kidnapping, according to the South Dakota Attorney General’s Office.
“Today’s affirmance was the direct result of the tremendous effort by the men and women who investigated and prosecuted this case,” Attorney General Marty Jackley said in a written statement.
Diaz was convicted by a Minnehaha County jury on Jan. 15, 2015, stemming from the murder of Jasmine Guevara on Nov. 10, 2009, by luring her to a remote location in Hanson County, where Diaz and her boyfriend, Alexander Salgado, stabbed her, cut her throat and set fire to her car while she was alive in the trunk. Diaz was 15 at the time.
“Diaz and Salgado have been found guilty of the cold-blooded murder of a 16-year-old, innocent little girl. I struggle to believe that the family of Jasmine Guevara will ever find closure, but I hope that this affirmance of her conviction and sentence will allow them to begin to heal,” Jackley said.
Diaz’s attorneys appealed her sentence to the South Dakota Supreme Court on Oct. 3, saying the penalty was too harsh for the then-juvenile who was abused and influenced by the older Salgado.
Salgado pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in August 2010 for his involvement in Guevara’s death. He is serving a life sentence at the South Dakota State Penitentiary.
According to the Supreme Court opinion, Diaz appealed several issues, including:
The juvenile court’s decision to transfer Diaz to adult court.
The juvenile court’s decision to deny a new hearing regarding the transfer.
A previous South Dakota Supreme Court decision to reverse the circuit court’s order suppressing Diaz’s statements to law enforcement.
A jury instruction regarding the effects of physical and sexual abuse.
The 80-year sentence, specifically whether it violated the Eighth Amendment and was a de facto life sentence.
The Supreme Court affirmed the court decisions in each case. Regarding the transfer to adult court, Diaz argued the juvenile court relied on Salgado’s testimony, which he later changed to say he was solely responsible, the opinion says.
The justices determined the alleged crimes were serious enough to warrant a transfer, as were Diaz’s own incriminating statements to law enforcement, among other pieces of evidence.
In response to the jury instruction claim, the Supreme Court instructed the jury to consider battered woman syndrome and whether Diaz’s conduct was the result of threatened or unlawful force from Salgado, which it deemed sufficient.
As for the appeal of the 80-year sentence, Diaz argued the court did not consider her potential for rehabilitation, that the sentence is “grossly disproportionate to the murder for which she was convicted and that the sentence is a de facto life sentence, meaning Diaz will spend all or most of her life in prison.
Other parties further argued Diaz’s relationship with Salgado and history as an emigrant - having moved to the United States from Mexico less than four years before the murder - furthered diminished Diaz’s guilt.
The Supreme Court decided the circuit court became acquainted with Diaz through the trial and gave due consideration to each factor, and it supported the court’s perspective regarding the severity of the crime.
“Diaz’s conviction of first-degree murder places Diaz’s crime at the uppermost level on the spectrum of criminality,” the justices said. “Based on the gravity of the crime of first-degree murder, Diaz’s sentence for a term of years allowing her the possibility of early release does not appear grossly disproportionate.”
In addition, because Diaz will be eligible for parole after serving 40 years in prison, 80 years was determined not to be a de facto life sentence.