Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lost in Translation

The cost of translation should get covered by the Feds I think.

Arrest in slaying lost in translation
Zeke MacCormack: Express-News

KERRVILLE — The wheels of justice have turned so slowly for Mirella DeLaFuente that her children now openly question the commitment of elected officials tasked with obtaining it.
DeLaFuente, 37, was killed March 2, 1991, after leaving a bar on Texas 16 where she'd argued with her estranged husband, Jose Garcia DeLaFuente, according to police reports.

A witness told investigators that Jose DeLaFuente, then 50, forced his wife's car off the road and, when Mirella got out to confront him, pointed a rifle out of his pickup cab, shot several times and sped away.

Jose DeLaFuente, a concrete worker, was indicted on a murder charge a month later but by then had fled to Mexico, officials believe.

While state and federal warrants for him are active on this side of the border, there's been no attempt to obtain one in Mexico — until now.

"In 17 years, it should have been done," said Charlie Vela, 29, one of Mirella DeLaFuente's five children raised here by her mother.

Kerr County Sheriff Rusty Hierholzer said he's finished assembling an array of records required for federal authorities to request a Mexican warrant.

But there's a hitch. The roughly 80-page file has to be translated into Spanish, and Hierholzer doubts his office can cover the fee.

District Attorney Ron Sutton has plenty of money but says he won't pay it.
"That's Kerr County's responsibility," he said last week.

FBI spokesman Erik Vasys said Wednesday his agency is eager to assist Kerr County, but noted, "We can't enlist our counterparts in Mexico to help without the proper documentation."

Vela's sister, Valerie Jimenez, 31, is angry over the lack of progress in catching the man who married her mother, a food service worker at a local hospital, in 1987.
"Money shouldn't be an issue. We want justice," she said.

Vela, who has also contacted federal officials about getting a warrant in Mexico, sees race as a factor behind the inaction.

"I just think that if it was a white person (killed) they would have acted faster," said Vela, noting a Mexico warrant was obtained promptly for a man accused of beating two Anglo women to death here in 2001.

Hierholzer, one of the first deputies on the scene of Mirella DeLaFuente's slaying, said race played no role in the case.

"I don't blame the family for being upset," he said. "If it was my momma, I'd be upset."

The case was among several open but idle murder investigations that Hierholzer said he revived upon succeeding Frances Kaiser as sheriff in 2000.

"We're working on a lot of these old cases. We try to do everything we can," he said.

Reports that DeLaFuente was occasionally crossing the border fostered hopes he'd be caught in Texas, Hierholzer said. A federal warrant was issued in 2005 for the man also known by the alias Jose Isaac DeLaFuente.

Since DeLaFuente didn't surface, Hierholzer said, deputies began the process to obtain a Mexican warrant in 2006.

But records were misplaced, he said, so deputies had to reassemble certified copies of court files, fingerprints, photos and sworn statements.

Hierholzer is now pricing the translation fee, but said he can't afford to spend more than $3,000 of the $10,000 budgeted for investigations by his agency this year.

Sutton controls a fund of more than $1 million in seized assets that's supposed to be used to aid law enforcement efforts in his five-county district.

But he won't pay for the translation and aired doubts that filing the DeLaFuente documents would result in a warrant or arrest.

"It's an uphill grind," Sutton said. "The Mexican government will probably never issue one."
He noted that getting a Mexican warrant six years ago hasn't led to the capture of Juan M. Castanon, charged with the 2001 slayings of Mary G. Delery, 71, and her daughter, Mary M. Delery, 51, at their home outside Kerrville.

Officials say they acted quickly to obtain a Mexican warrant in that case after getting leads on Castanon's whereabouts and because of fear that the suspect would harm other people.

In what Sutton now describes as a bad precedent, he acceded to Hierholzer's pleas and dipped into his seized-asset account to translate the Delery case file.

"I did it one time, but I shouldn't have and I won't do it again," Sutton said.

The asset fund is an issue in the election race among Sutton's would-be successors, Republican Amos Barton and Democrat Richard Ellison.

Through open-records laws, Ellison has sought a detailed accounting of expenditures from what he calls the "slush fund."

Noting it paid for trips by Sutton and others to conferences in Hawaii, Ellison said, "If they've got money for that, they can spend it for the translation."