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Cooley to Seek Return of Suspects

Mexican high court's ruling clears the way for the extradition of men accused in L.A. killings.

December 01, 2005|Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton | Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley on Wednesday named suspected killers he wants placed on the fast track for extradition now that the Mexican high court has agreed the country can hand over fugitives facing life sentences to the United States.

The Mexican Supreme Court, on a 6-5 vote, ended years of wrangling between the two countries Tuesday by reversing the ban on extraditing U.S. suspects facing life terms.

Jack King, an attorney with the National Assn. of Criminal Defense Lawyers, warned that U.S. authorities should not expect an immediate flood of fugitives.

"I have not read the decision but I would expect that the Mexican Supreme Court would continue to evaluate these cases on a case-by-case basis," King said of the extraditions.

Cooley acknowledged that hurdles remain, but said that he expected full cooperation from the Mexican government.

"High on my list" of fugitives, Cooley said, is Jorge "Armando" Arroyo Garcia, whom authorities say has been in hiding in Mexico since April 2002, when he allegedly gunned down Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy David March during a traffic stop in Irwindale.

Several hundred murder suspects have fled to Mexico to avoid prosecution in Los Angeles County, Cooley said. Other priorities for capture, he said, include:

* Alavaro Jara, a 26-year-old suspected gang member, is accused of killing 12-year-old Steven Morales in 1998 as the youth played baseball with some friends on a Highland Park cul-de-sac. Morales was caught in the crossfire as he dove to save a friend. Jara fled to Mexico in 2001 with his girlfriend, authorities allege.

* Daniel Perez, 34, is accused of killing his ex-wife's father while on trial for attempting to kill his ex-wife in 1999. Perez kidnapped 27-year-old Anabella Vara at gunpoint from a South Gate restaurant and shot her in the head. While out on bail, authorities said, Perez hunted down Vara's father, Carlos, and beat him to death inside his home. Perez was sentenced in absentia to 33 years in state prison for the attempted murder of his ex-wife.

* Juan Manuel Casillas, 26, allegedly shot to death Olivia Munguia, 17, and Jessica Zavala, 15, in June 1999 as they walked to school in Lynwood. The gunman allegedly was angry with Munguia for breaking off their relationship. Casillas, who was charged with two counts of murder, fled to his native Mexico.

* Angel Jimenez, 30, an alleged "Lopez Maravilla" gang member, shot Tiffany Rios, 19, in the head on May 5, 1996, as she sat in a friend's car in front of an East Los Angeles apartment complex. Jimenez fired into the car in retaliation for an earlier drive-by shooting by rival gang members, police allege. Rios' companion, David Martinez, 34, was also shot in the head but survived. Jimenez, a Mexican national, fled to his homeland, where he was prosecuted and in 2000 sentenced to 14 years in prison there. A change in state law now allows him to be tried here as well.

Cooley acknowledged that Los Angeles County authorities will be competing with an "onslaught" of extradition requests from hundreds of law enforcement agencies across the country, and that suspects could be on the move because of the high court's decision.

And authorities still will face Mexican resistance to extradition of suspects facing the death penalty in the U.S. Cooley declined to say whether his office would waive the death penalty in order to try Garcia in the deputy's slaying.

"Every extradition request stands and falls on its own merits," Deputy Dist. Atty. Jan Maurizi said. "Decisions [on pursuing the death penalty] are made on a case-by-case basis but I can tell you that we have in the past agreed to waive" the death penalty to get Mexican fugitives back.

Saul Zavala, whose daughter and niece were killed in the Lynwood shooting, said he will be watching.

"I fought this case for 6 1/2 years because I promised my daughter that I would get justice no matter what happened," Zavala said. "This is the best decision to bring all the murderers escaping justice in Mexico.... I don't know what's going to happen yet but I won't say 'thank God' until [Casillas] is here."

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