ELKO – Family of the victim and her alleged killer filled the jail courtroom observation area to hear Eduardo Estrada-Puentes plead not guilty Monday to the murder of Stephanie Gonzalez.
About five years after Estrada-Puentes, 34, allegedly strangled his estranged wife, he will be tried for her death. Stephanie Gonzalez was killed June 25, 2011.
He waived his right to a speedy trial – within 60 days of arraignment — before District Judge Al Kacin.
“This case has a lot of notoriety, so have you talked about how many jurors?” Kacin asked Estrada-Puentes’ attorney Sherburne Macfarlan.
The defense attorney said he had not discussed it with the District Attorney’s office, but the state estimated five days would be needed for trial and he estimates the court will need six.
Kacin said he will schedule the jury selection to begin on a Monday to move the proceedings along. Jury selection normally begins on a Tuesday. Kacin also said it will be held in the county commissioners’ room since his courtroom is not big enough to handle a large jury pool – at least 150 people.
“The other part of it is I know it’s got a lot of interest,” Kacin said. “We have a lot of people, I assume, here to observe these proceedings out in the gallery at this courtroom attached to the jail and so we’re going to need the room just for that as well. So we’ll select that jury at the commissioners’ room.”
Kacin brought up another issue, that he was the judge who signed the warrant of arrest in Elko Justice Court.
“The way the rules for judges work in our state, if you’ve been a judge in another court for the same case, you are subject to disqualification; however, that can be waived,” Kacin said. “I’m here to tell Mr. Estrada as well as the state that I can be fair and impartial. I have no actual or personal bias against either the state or Mr. Estrada, but this would be what’s called an implied bias issue.”
Kacin asked the defense and prosecution to get together to decide if a waiver can be done.
“If you can’t agree on that simply let me know, and I will have to disqualify in this case,” he said.
“I suspect you will be the presiding judge,” Macfarlan said.
The trial date will be set after the defense and prosecution discuss the court’s calendar with the judge’s staff.
Gonzalez’s mother, Lidia Cortes, was one of several family members in the gallery of the courtroom.
“I’m pretty devastated,” Cortes said after the proceedings. “I was hoping that he would plead guilty so we didn’t have to go through a trial, especially the two little ones, the girls having to testify all over again.
“… It’s been a tough, almost five years. I just want to say thank you to everyone that has supported us throughout this ordeal; family, friends and our community. I know they’ll be there with us throughout the whole thing too.”
She said the justice system scares her, but she hopes the court will be able to seat jurors.
“I’m hoping for a guilty verdict,” she said.
Cortes also said she is still active in advocating for domestic violence education throughout the community.
“I want to continue advocating against domestic violence, and hopefully help the women in our community to get out safe,” she said. “These horrific violent acts still plague our community. It saddens me very much to hear and see that it still continues. I think I just need to be out there more and hopefully get the abusers the help that they need.”
Estrada-Puentes was bound over to district court in March by Elko Justice of the Peace Mason Simons.
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.