2 more guilty pleas from man who admitted killing 4 Nevadans

Posted at 7:10 AM, November 10, 2021 and last updated 10:37 PM, July 17, 2023

By SCOTT SONNER Associated Press

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A Salvadoran immigrant who admitted fatally shooting four people in Nevada during a two-week rampage in 2019 pleaded guilty Tuesday to the remaining two killings as part of a deal with prosecutors that will spare him the death penalty.

Wilber Ernesto Martinez Guzman, 22, will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty to first-degree murder with a deadly weapon, in rural Douglas County, in the deaths of Connie Koontz and Sophia Renken. The two were killed at their homes in Gardnerville, south of Carson City.

Wilber Ernesto Martinez Guzman

Wilber Ernesto Martinez Guzman (Carson City Sheriff’s Office)

He pleaded guilty in Washoe County on Oct. 21 to the same charges in the deaths of Gerald and Sharon David at their Reno home.

An announcement by prosecutors last month that a deal was struck regarding all four killings came as a surprise in a legal proceeding that had dragged on for nearly two years.

District Attorneys Chris Hicks of Washoe County and Mark Jackson of Douglas County initially planned one death penalty trial for Martinez Guzman in Reno. But the Nevada Supreme Court ruled Sept. 30 that the defendant would have to be tried separately in the two county jurisdictions.

The prosecutors said at a news conference after the guilty pleas in Reno last month that the decision to drop the death penalty came as a result of a direct appeal from families of the victims who didn’t want the case to stretch on with the potential for decades of appeals.

“Today was the next step in seeking justice for the equally heinous crimes that Martinez Guzman committed in Douglas County,” Jackson said in a statement Tuesday following the pleas to the murder and burglary charges in district court in Minden.

“Today was also about honoring and respecting the collective desires of all of the victims’ families in bringing finality to these cases,” he said.

Hicks said it was the “second step in a global resolution that will secure justice for the victims and finality for their loved ones.”

Martinez Guzman is also expected to plead guilty to several property crimes in Carson City later this month, Jackson said.

In addition to four consecutive life terms with no possibility of parole, he faces a minimum of another 214 years in prison for the multiple burglary, larceny, weapons and possession of stolen property charges under the plea agreement outlined in court documents.

Washoe County District Judge Connie Steinheimer has scheduled sentencing for the Reno crimes for Feb. 28.

Jackson said sentencing is scheduled March 3 in Douglas County, where the families of Koontz and Renken “will finally have an opportunity to tell the court how the murders have impacted their lives.”

Authorities said Martinez Guzman stole a .22-caliber handgun from the Davids’ southwest Reno home on Jan. 4, 2019; shot and killed Koontz, 56, and Renken, 74, in separate attacks several days later; and returned to the Davids’ house to rob and kill them Jan 15.

Gerald David, 81, and his 80-year-old wife were prominent in the Reno Rodeo Association and had employed Martinez Guzman as a landscaper the summer before.

Martinez Guzman was arrested in Carson City during a manhunt that had investigators track an Apple watch stolen from Koontz to Martinez Guzman’s mother.

The case drew attention at the time from then-President Donald Trump, who said it showed the need to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Authorities said Martinez Guzman was in the country illegally but they didn’t know how or when he arrived.