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Bounty Hunter's Fate Rests With Mexican Authorities

Duane Chapman, now in jail after capturing fugitive, gets little help from U.S. officials.

June 20, 2003|Anna Gorman and Jenifer Ragland | Times Staff Writers

As Mexican authorities consider the fate of bounty hunter Duane Lee Chapman, his business partner on Thursday decried the FBI for dismissing his role in the capture of fugitive rapist Andrew Luster and for refusing to help free him from jail.

"I am a wreck," said Beth Smith, reached by telephone in Hawaii. "I don't know how I'm going to get [Chapman] out of jail."

Prosecutors, relatives of Luster's rape victims and radio talk-show hosts around the country expressed support Thursday for Chapman, 50. The leather-clad bounty hunter who answers to the nickname "Dog" was thrown into a Mexican jail along with his brother, his son, his agent and a cameraman early Wednesday morning after capturing Luster, 39, in Puerto Vallarta.

Ventura County Deputy Dist. Atty. Maeve Fox, who prosecuted Luster, said she is "keeping fingers crossed" that Chapman is not charged with a serious crime.

"I know the FBI has been very critical of him, and I certainly can't condone the manner in which he executed it, but I am very appreciative of his efforts," Fox said. "He caught him. And he was at least one step ahead of the FBI."

FBI officials this week said that they have no authority to help the bounty hunters, and publicly chastised Chapman for taking the law into his own hands.

Mexican authorities will decide today whether to file charges against Chapman and his crew. Those charges could include kidnapping and illegally entering the country, said Marco Roberto Juarez of the Jalisco state attorney general's office in Puerto Vallarta.

The law prohibits foreigners from doing police work without authorization and requires them to work in collaboration with Mexican authorities, Juarez said.

"You can't just go in and catch anybody you want, even if the person is a delinquent," he said.

Authorities let Chapman and the other four men meet with reporters Thursday.

Jeff Sells, the cameraman who accompanied the bounty hunters, called them heroes. He said a few Mexican police officers even went so far as to shake hands with Chapman.

"They took a rapist off the street," Sells said. That, he said, "is a big deal."

"If we've saved one girl from getting raped, me spending four days in jail, is absolutely worth it," said Sells, a freelance producer who lives in Los Angeles. "[Luster's] a monster."

Chapman and the other men were reluctant to discuss details about Luster or the arrest, but stressed that they were being treated well by Mexican authorities.

Gary Lozow, Chapman's Denver-based attorney, said he is already working to free the men. He said he also plans to file a petition asking the courts to give Chapman a share of Luster's $1-million bail.

Meanwhile, Smith also has started a "free the bounty hunters fund" through the Bank of Hawaii. She said she was flooded with requests Thursday from people wanting to help.

"People are saying the Dog got ripped," said Smith, who is also Chapman's longtime companion. "They're saying if they try not to pay the Dog, they're going to have problems."

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Times staff writers Catherine Saillant and Richard Boudreaux contributed to this report.

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