ELKO – After a day and a half of testimony and a request by the defense to bind over Eduardo Estrada-Puentes, 34, on a charge of second-degree murder, he was bound over to district court Friday by Judge Mason Simons on the original charge of open murder, for allegedly strangling his estranged wife Stephanie Gonzalez.
Simons stated, because of testimony and evidence, the court has found “slight or marginal evidence” that Estrada-Puentes committed open murder, including first-degree murder and all lesser offenses.
“Obviously Mr. Estrada has been charged with open murder — first degree murder and the lesser included offenses — as I’m sure the court is well aware, even at the preliminary hearing stage there’s certain things that the state has to show, at least by slight or marginal evidence, in terms of binding Mr. Estrada over on a theory of first-degree murder,” said defense attorney Sherburne Macfarlan.
He said there are three specific elements to determining first-degree murder. The State must show the murder was willful, premeditated and deliberate.
“What I’m suggesting to this court is the State has not shown premeditation or deliberation,” said Macfarlan.
He referred to the statements of those around the pair — particularly around June 24, 2011 — did not see animosity regarding the relationship. Estrada-Puentes even suggested they go look for a trailer for Gonzalez.
“We have absolutely no statements made by Mr. Estrada, prior to June 25, 2011, which would indicate that he had any thoughts ... as to wanting to harm Stephanie Estrada, much less kill Stephanie Estrada,” Macfarlan said.
The evidence shows, according to the defense, something occurred that morning ultimately leading to the death of Gonzalez. Therefore, he asked the court to not bind over Estrada on “a theory of first-degree murder,” but on “a theory of second-degree murder.”
“Premeditation is not something that must occur days or even weeks in advance, it could be just seconds or minutes before, and that statement where K’iawna recounts hearing her father say ‘You’re dead,’ that’s enough, the State would suggest, that he has developed that premeditation and carries that out by strangling Stephanie,” said Chad Thompson, for the prosecution.
He said premeditation is also shown by the four minutes that must pass for strangulation to occur.
“Basically he’s committed to something that really takes a significant amount of time,” said Thompson.
Before the State rested, testimony from the Washoe County Crime Lab, where Gonzalez’s autopsy was conducted, indicated she was killed by strangulation.
The prosecution, through a video conference with the lab, spoke to Dr. Piotr Kubiczek who said his findings during Gonzalez’s autopsy supported the diagnosis and mechanism of strangulation. He came to this conclusion because of the presence of abrasions and small areas of bleeding on the surface of the skin, known as petechiae.
Both of Gonzalez’s cheeks showed signs of this.
David Buchler, deputy district attorney, asked with every injury named if they were recent or remote to the death. All were declared recent. Kubiczek later explained, when asked by the defense team, remote injuries would indicate evidence of healing.
Kubiczek also said, in support of his diagnosis, there was evidence of congestion of sclera, the white of the eye, and conjunctiva in both eyes. He also pointed out a hemorrhage, within the sclera, on the lower edge of the left eye.
There was also was an abrasion on Gonzalez’s left shoulder, and contusions or bruising on the back of her scalp, the occipital scalp, and the left arm and elbow, which were attributed to a blunt force object, he said.
“When I dissected the neck organs I found an area of hemorrhage, or bleeding, between the soft tissues of the neck on the left side, then there was bleeding within the left aspect of the larynx. I also found a subarachnoid hemorrhage on the left side of the brain” said Kubiczek, explaining important, internal evidence discovered.
Subarachnoid hemorrhage is bleeding in the space between the brain and the tissue covering it, and in many cases this is the result of blunt force trauma and would relate to the bruising on the scalp.
The forensic pathologist also described the physiological process of strangulation. He said the force required to close off the jugular veins is about 4.4 pounds. Blood would still be pumping into the head through the carotid arteries causing increased blood pressure in the head and skin rupturing small vessels.
Blood and oxygen is no longer supplied to the brain with the pressure of about 11 pounds and the brain dies within approximately four minutes, he told the court.
Consciousness is lost within 10 to 15 seconds.
Additionally, the lead detective on the case in 2011, who found Gonzalez’s body while executing a search warrant with other members of the city police in the trailer on Garcia Lane, testified.
Det. Kevin Blue said there was no sign anything had been taken and nothing appeared abnormal about the residence.
The team was about ready to finish its search when Blue — attributing it to a feeling — needed to move the objects that turned out to be hiding Gonzalez’s body. The room had previously been searched.
Gonzalez was found on her left side between the wall and the bed in the children’s bedroom.
Blue said, upon finding the body, she was “cold to the touch,” there wasn’t a pulse and her body was stiff, or in rigor.
His theory was the incident happened next to the children’s bathroom. This was based on the location of her personal effects.
In the course of searching for Gonzalez, officers encountered Michelle Quintero – Gonzalez’s cousin and the first to testify Friday – and her husband in the Garcia Lane trailer trying desperately to find Gonzalez.
They succeeded in finding her purse, cellphone and other belongings. The couple was alerted to Gonzalez’s disappearance while at the Wild Horse Reservoir with the family.
According to Free Press files, the amended criminal complaint on a charge of open murder was filed Sept. 27, 2011, and can include first-degree murder and all lesser included offenses.
According to NRS, sentencing for first-degree murder can include life without parole; life with a 20-year minimum for parole; or 50 years with a minimum of 20 years for parole.
Soon after the killing, Estrada-Puentes fled to Mexico.
With the help of the FBI and Mexican federal authorities, he was located and arrested in the State of Jalisco. Estrada-Puentes spent last year in custody in Mexico City, where he underwent extradition hearings.