- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 5, 2005

DENVER — It took an international manhunt four weeks to track down cop-killing suspect Raul Garcia-Gomez in Mexico, but bringing him back to Denver may prove more difficult.

Mexico’s tough extradition policy practically forbids the release of Mexican citizens who would face the death penalty or life in prison without possibility of parole. Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey said his office already has begun working with the State Department to extradite the suspect, but warned the process could take up to a year.

“It’s not going to be something that’s going to be done in a week or so,” Mr. Morrissey said. “It’s going to take some time to get this accomplished.”

Mr. Garcia-Gomez, 20, was captured by Mexican officers Saturday in Culiacan, about 1,000 miles south of Los Angeles. Another man, Jaime Arana-Del Angel, 27, was arrested last week in Denver on charges of accessory to first-degree murder.

On Saturday, three of Mr. Garcia-Gomez’s relatives were taken into custody in Los Angeles on immigration charges and could be charged with harboring a fugitive.

Mr. Garcia-Gomez fled Denver after the Mother’s Day slaying of Denver Detective Donald Young, 43. A second officer, Detective John Bishop, 35, also was shot, but survived.

A Mexican citizen who had entered the United States illegally, Mr. Garcia-Gomez joins an estimated 3,000 murder-case fugitives evading U.S. prosecution in Mexico, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

Mexico began withholding fugitives in death-penalty cases a few years after its 1978 extradition treaty with the United States. In 2001, Mexican authorities added those faced with life in prison without parole, thanks to a Mexican Supreme Court decision that found the punishment cruel and unusual.

Mexicans suspected of murder in the U.S. who can scramble back across the border often find themselves with a virtual get-out-of-jail-free card, said John March, whose son, David, a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff, was killed by an illegal alien now living in Mexico.

“We’ve met people who have been trying for 20 years to extradite the killers of their sons or daughters and gotten nowhere,” said Mr. March. “There’s been no response from anyone — not federal authorities, not state authorities — except their local D.A.”

U.S. authorities can opt to win extradition by agreeing to charge the suspect with a lesser offense, such as second-degree murder. Mr. Morrissey said he had not decided whether to charge Mr. Garcia-Gomez with first-degree murder or a lesser crime.

The May 8 slaying already has fueled an outcry against illegal immigration. Critics argue the decision to “downcharge” a suspect in order to secure extradition has created a separate, more lenient justice system for Mexican fugitives.

Another alternative is to pursue an Article IV prosecution, in which Denver authorities would bring their case to Mexican federal court. If convicted, Mr. Garcia-Gomez would then serve time in Mexican prison.

The problem with Article IV prosecutions is that the sentences vary widely.

“Only about three or four of the cases we sent over got 60 years,” said Jan Maurizi, director at the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. “Then you’d have guys getting eight years, five years or weekends.”

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