A Carson City judge set bail at $500,000 for a man who is linked to the killings of four people in Northern Nevada this month and also charged with stealing jewelry, guns and electronics from the deceased before pawning some of it for a few hundred dollars.
Wilber Ernesto Martinez Guzman, 20, made his first appearance in court on Thursday after he was charged with 36 counts of property crime including burglary and possession of stolen property. A native of El Salvador, he is also charged as a prohibited person in possession of a firearm because he is suspected of immigrating illegally to the U.S.
Carson City Deputy District Attorney Melanie Brantingham said she wasn’t sure when charges might come from other counties, where the killings took place. But she asked for high bail, citing the seriousness of the expected charges and adding that Guzman does not have many ties to Northern Nevada. She noted that he has been in the area just a short period of time, making him a potential flight risk.
Martinez Guzman wore a black and white striped jail uniform and shackles, answering “si” when Judge Tom Armstrong read through the charges against him one by one and asked if he understood them. He was helped by a Spanish interpreter and as nine uniformed officers stood by inside the courtroom.
Martinez Guzman was assigned a public defender and ordered to return for a preliminary hearing on Feb. 8, but neither his new lawyer nor Brantingham could provide much more information about the suspect’s background.
Claudia Mendoza, who described the suspect as a friend in an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal, told the newspaper that Martinez Guzman was reserved and respectful, and lived with his mother and sister. Mendoza said Martinez Guzman grew up working in a field and milking cows, and at one point told her he had to work for whatever he had and would be beaten if he asked for a toy.
The series of killings began in Gardnerville, the Douglas County community about 50 miles from Reno, when two women, Connie Koontz, 56, and Sophia Renken, 74, were killed inside their homes earlier this month only miles apart. The two victims were found Jan. 10 and Jan. 13 — within four days of each other.
Days later on Jan. 15, authorities began investigating two killings in Reno after Gerald David, 81, and Sharon David, 80, were found dead in their South Reno home. Gerald David was a former president of the Reno Rodeo, the Reno Gazette Journal reported.
Immigration officials and Carson City deputies took Martinez Guzman into custody Saturday afternoon a few blocks south of the state capitol. Authorities say he did not have interactions with Carson City deputies in the year he was apparently in the area, but Brantingham did not know if he had a criminal history in his home country.
A complaint filed Thursday lays out a long list of guns that Martinez Guzman allegedly stole, including ones with bayonets, as well as spurs, custom rings, tools and an Apple watch. The document says he pawned some of the goods at a shop a few blocks away from the Capitol building and made a total of $538.
The series of killings shook nearby residents. Northern Nevada businesses selling guns and alarm systems told KOLO news that they saw an uptick in sales in the days following the killings.
The crimes also caught the attention of President Donald Trump, who cited them as a reason for building a wall on the border with Mexico. An impasse over whether Congress should allocate billions of dollars for a wall is spurring a government shutdown that has lasted more than a month.
“Four people in Nevada viciously robbed and killed by an illegal immigrant who should not have been in our Country,” the president tweeted. “We need a powerful Wall!”