MITCHELL, S.D. — Alexander Salgado and Maricela Diaz are both in prison for a long time.
Nearly 12 years ago, the pair were arrested and eventually convicted in the killing of Mitchell teen Jasmine Guevara, with Salgado pleading guilty and receiving a life sentence in 2010 and Diaz receiving 80 years in prison for murder at a trial in 2015, concurrent with 50 years for kidnapping in separate trials. She is eligible for parole in 2049.
The sentences were the conclusion to six years of investigation and court proceedings stemming from Guevara’s death, which occurred Nov. 10, 2009, as well as the end of the process of bringing two murderers to justice after a burning car was reported in rural Hanson County nearly 12 years ago.
The investigation began with what was reported as a range fire 3 miles southeast of Mitchell. The blaze was a burning car, and authorities responding to the call found a body in the trunk of the vehicle. Guevara was reported missing the same night of the car fire.
After connecting the vehicle to the Guevara family, a whirlwind 48 hours followed, highlighted by interviews with friends and family of the missing, an intense investigation and finally, a pair of arrests and confessions, including a tearful breakdown by Diaz after the weight of the circumstances finally got to her.
“She said, ‘We did it, we did it, we did it. We killed her,” Joel Reinesch, then an investigator with the Mitchell Police Division, told the Mitchell Republic in a 2019 interview for a retrospective series on the murder.
The two were indicted by a grand jury the week following the murder.
Authorities believed that Guevara had agreed to give the two suspects a ride in her new car, a 1999 Chevy Malibu, to Walmart in order to buy lighter fluid for a cookout and bonfire. Salgado, then 19, and Diaz, then 15, managed to convince the teenager to accompany them to a supposedly haunted house in Hanson County.
Guevara, who had befriended the new-to-town couple, agreed to the proposal.
But the pair were plotting to kill Guevara and had taken knives from the home at which they were staying with the intention of stabbing and burning her. The pair took advantage of Guevara’s kind nature, and while Salgado got out of the car and walked toward the house, Diaz stayed in the Malibu with Guevara.
The exact details of the assault may not be entirely clear, according to investigators, as the suspects gave conflicting reports, but it is known that after they stabbed Guevara, they put her body in the trunk of the car, drove it to a grove of trees and doused both the teen and the car in lighter fluid and set it on fire. They then walked back to Mitchell to the house at which they were staying and watched television.
Once investigators began to close in on the two suspects, the couple then lied to investigators. Diaz claimed they were brother and sister and urged Salgado to lie about his name. But the breakdown came when Salgado confessed and Diaz was asked about what they had purchased at Walmart.
After initially pleading not guilty, Salgado changed his tune and entered a guilty plea to second-degree manslaughter, a Class B felony in South Dakota, giving him a mandatory life sentence by default but avoiding a potential death sentence. He also agreed to offer more cooperation to authorities on the case.
The Diaz trial did not get underway until 2015, but the jury found her guilty on three counts of murder, one count of second-degree aggravated kidnapping and one count of first-degree arson. Defense attorneys had maintained that Diaz was under the control and influence of Salgado.
Brent Kempema, assistant South Dakota attorney general, said that Guevara was a trusting girl, and that trust cost her her life on the night of Nov. 10.
“She had a fatal flaw. She was too trusting, and she died because of it,” Kempema told the jury at the start of the Diaz trial. “Miss Diaz made choices. Because of those choices, Jasmine ended up in the trunk of her car, alone and burning alive.”
The Diaz conviction was appealed to the South Dakota Supreme Court, but the court upheld the conviction in 2016.
That decision brought the sordid ordeal to a conclusion, at least as far as the traditional pursuit of justice goes. But the loss of Guevara weighed heavily on her family, including her mother, Ada Morales, who recounted details about her daughter’s character and personality in 2019.
She was described as a busy teenager who participated in the track and cross-country teams, as well as marching band. She also worked multiple jobs to help fund purchases for clothes or a set of braces.
Though time was beginning to pass since the murder and trials, her unending love for her daughter kept her from offering forgiveness to the two individuals responsible for Guevara’s death.
“I asked God to forgive them, because I can’t,” Morales told the Mitchell Republic in 2019.
The fact the family never got to say goodbye to Guevara was one of the most difficult aspects of her death. She said the couple hadn’t caused her death in an accident, such as in a car crash, but had killed her willfully and intentionally. That made it very difficult to forgive.
“It probably sounds like we’re vengeful, but we just wanted justice,” Ada Guevara, Jasmine’s older sister, said in 2019. “It’s not that they ran her over and it was an accident. Everything that they did to her and what they did to try and cover their tracks, it’s horrible. We didn’t even get to say goodbye. We weren’t able to see her in her casket one last time and see her face. We didn’t get to see that. She was completely gone. They wanted to make her disappear.”
Their description of their daughter and sister paints a picture of someone that would be welcome in most anyone’s life. She loved people and animals and often brought stray animals home to care for. At one point, there were two ducks, eight turtles, three dogs and six fish in the family home in Mitchell. She had a dream of becoming a plastic surgeon to help children with cleft lips so that they could feel confident.
Salgado and Diaz seized on her kindness and empathy. Her family believes that Jasmine may have even helped Salgado with a job application.
“She was just trying to help them. I don’t know why they did that. I don’t understand. I still don’t get it. We’re never going to have an answer,” Morales said.
Jasmine Guevara never got a chance to study medicine or to continue to rescue lost turtles she found on the road. She was robbed of her chance to create a life legacy of her own by two people to whom she was only trying to be kind.
But her family, friends and even some of the investigators who worked on the case said they would not forget her or the case. A mass is held in her honor each year.
South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Tyler Neuharth said in 2019 the level of violence in the case has remained with him over the years, as was the senselessness of a death that came to someone who only wanted to help.
“Jasmine was a high school girl that was doing everything in her power to help these people out, and they essentially turned on her,” Neuharth said.