In January 2019, as political tensions rose over funding for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall, reports emerged that an undocumented immigrant had been responsible for four killings in Nevada.
On Jan. 21, 2021, President Trump himself tweeted that “Four people in Nevada viciously robbed and killed by an illegal immigrant who should not have been in our Country,” and used the case in support of his argument for the enhanced security infrastructure along the southern border, adding “We need a powerful Wall!”:
Four people in Nevada viciously robbed and killed by an illegal immigrant who should not have been in our Country. 26 people killed on the Border in a drug and gang related fight. Two large Caravans from Honduras broke into Mexico and are headed our way. We need a powerful Wall!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 21, 2019
President Trump and some of his supporters have consistently talked up the supposed risk to public safety from immigration across the southern U.S. border. However, studies have repeatedly shown that undocumented immigrants actually commit crimes, including violent crimes, at a lower rate than native-born U.S. citizens, as we have outlined in greater detail previously.
The day after Trump’s tweet, the conservative “Constitution Club” Facebook page posted a widely-shared meme featuring a photograph of an elderly Nevada couple alleged to have been killed by the “illegal immigrant” in question:
“REST IN PEACE: Gerold [sic] (81) and Sharon David (80), shot and killed by an illegal immigrant during a home invasion/robbery in Reno on 1/10/19.”
In October 2021, nearly three years after this fact check was originally published, Wilber Ernesto Martinez-Guzman pleaded guilty to several charges, including the murders of Gerald and Sharon David, just as the meme claimed. Federal immigration officials confirmed for Snopes that Martinez-Guzman is an unauthorized immigrant in the United States. As a result, we have changed the rating on this fact check from “Unproven” to “True.”
On Jan. 19, 2019, the Carson City Sheriff’s Office arrested Wilber Ernesto Martinez-Guzman, a citizen of El Salvador, in connection with a series of burglaries and homicides in Washoe and Douglas Counties in January 2019. Initial police statements described the suspect as being 19 years old, but Carson City Sheriff’s Office records list his age as 20.
Martinez-Guzman was suspected of being responsible for the shooting deaths of 56-year-old Connie Koontz on Jan. 10, 2019, 74-year-old Sophia Renken on Jan. 13, and Gerald David (81) and his wife Sharon David (80) on Jan. 16.
A spokesperson for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) confirmed to Snopes that Martinez-Guzman is an undocumented immigrant, writing in an email to us that: “Mr. Martinez-Guzman is a citizen of El Salvador who entered the United States unlawfully on an unknown date and location. He has no prior criminal or immigration history. ICE has lodged a detainer.”
ICE files a detainer request with a local law enforcement agency when they have reason to believe that an individual is eligible to be deported from the United States, and ICE formally asks that agency to notify ICE in advance of the individual’s release from custody (for example, after serving a prison sentence) so that ICE can then immediately take the person into custody and begin the deportation process.
Martinez-Guzman was initially charged in Carson City with burglary and possession of stolen property in relation to his alleged actions at the David household in South Reno, as well as immigration offences. At the time this fact check was originally published, in January 2019, he had not been charged with murder, but local law enforcement officials said they were “confident [they] have evidence that will link him to all four homicides.”
On Jan. 24, 2019, the Carson City District Attorney added several additional charges. According to KOLO-TV, those new charges included:
- 12 new counts of possession of a stolen firearm, including rifles, shotguns and one handgun belonging to Gerald and Sharon David.
- Two counts possession of stolen property – an Apple watch belonging to Connie Koontz, plus golf club and tools belonging to another Carson City burglary victim.
- Twelve counts of prohibited person in possession of a firearm.
- Two misdemeanor counts of possession of stolen property, rings belonging to Connie Koontz.
- Three misdemeanor counts of obtaining money under false pretenses for the sale of two rings belonging to Connie Koontz, one belonging to Gerald David.
On Oct. 21, 2021, after a series of delays, Martinez-Guzman pleaded guilty to several charges against him in Washoe County, Nevada, including the murders of Gerald and Sharon David. In return, prosecutors there have agreed not to request the death penalty at sentencing, but instead will ask the court to hand down a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
The Washoe County District Attorney’s office provided Snopes with a copy of the guilty plea memo signed by Martinez-Guzman. In it, he agreed to plead guilty to six felonies including burglary and first degree murder, and also committed to pleading guilty to similar crimes in Douglas County, where he is being prosecuted for the shooting deaths of Koontz and Renken.
If Martinez-Guzman fails to also plead guilty to the murders of Koontz and Renken in Douglas County, under the terms of his plea agreement he would once again leave himself open to the death penalty in both jurisdictions.