Plugging the hole

A bungling bureaucracy allowed murder suspect Maricela Martinez to escape to Mexico

De la Fuente went to Julian Bishop, who oversees bond forfeitures in the clerk's office. Bishop went to the sheriff's office; the sheriff's department went to the district attorney.

Together the sheriff and the district attorney's office apparently decided to set up a sting, and on March 27, Maricela Martinez was brought back to the Dallas County jail.

"What came out at [the bond forfeiture hearing] was they had her transferred back, either to have her give them some evidence or to put another individual in her cell to elicit information," says Adler. "But then the INS whisked away their star witness."

On April 14--before law enforcement could find a suitable Spanish-speaking stoolie--Maricela Martinez was taken, as scheduled, to her INS deportation hearing. An immigration judge ordered her deported, and she was put on a bus for Nuevo Laredo, where she was released the following day.

"The DA didn't want her to go," marvels Adler. "The sheriff's department didn't want her to go. She didn't want to go. [Adler is referring to the fact that Martinez did not voluntarily waive an extradition hearing.]

"But the INS said, 'You go.'"
As INS spokesman Ligon told the Observer last January, "Our obligation to the taxpayer is just to get rid of 'em."

But testimony at a three-day hearing held earlier this month indicates that the right hand of the INS clearly wasn't communicating with the left. According to a transcript of the hearing, the INS had assured the sheriff's department that Martinez would not be deported. "I am troubled by the INS's representations to the sheriff...that they would not deport Ms. Martinez, and then their failure to live up to their representations, and then deporting her a couple of days later, as they say, by error or mistake," said Dallas County Magistrate Darrell Clements at a hearing on May 6.

The INS wasn't the only law enforcement bureaucracy to come in for criticism from the magistrate: "I'm [also] troubled by the sheriff's cavalier attitude about the recording and documenting of affidavits that were served on them."

It turns out that on August 11--while Martinez was sitting in the jail awaiting a Spanish-speaking canary for a cellmate, Eddie Dees served an ATGOB (affidavit to go off bond) at the clerk's office.

Thanks to the power of the bonding lobby and a resultant pair of statutes, a bond company in Texas can offer up his client for re-arrest any time it likes. And on Friday, April 11, 1997, Eddie Dees decided that he'd like to give up Maricela Martinez. "Fast Eddie's" reason, as stated in his affidavit, was that Martinez was in federal custody and about to be deported.

As allowed by statute, Dees filed an affidavit with the clerk of the court where Maricela's case was pending. He also filed it with the district clerk's office, where it automatically resulted in a warrant being issued. It is this warrant that, according to the magistrate, the sheriff's office handled "cavalier[ly]."

In other words, the sheriff should have rearrested Martinez on her state criminal charge as she sat in the Dallas County jail awaiting deportation on the INS hold, rather than let her go to her deportation hearing the following Monday morning.

A number of cynical law-enforcement sorts suggest--anonymously--that Dees filed the affidavit merely to bolster his "I-did-everything-I-was-supposed-to" defense to the county's attempt to make him pay up on the bond.

Indeed, if the "glitch" that allowed Martinez to be freed is created in part by conflicting state and federal priorities, it also depends on the ability of bonding companies to get out of paying the bonds they write on aliens who are then deported.

Normally, when someone bonds out of jail and then fails to appear at trial, the bondsman must pay the full face amount of the bond. But for years, case law actually encouraged bondsmen to write bonds on illegal aliens knowing they would be deported, since the deportation was an absolute defense to forfeiture.

In other words, a bondsman could simply rake in money from illegal aliens with an INS "hold," knowing they'd never have to make good on the bonds, even though their deported customers never showed up for their state trial.

But a Dallas County magistrate is trying to close that loophole.
On May 6, after three days of testimony reliving this tragedy of errors, Magistrate Clements issued a Solomonic ruling. Because Dees had served his ATGOB on the sheriff in time for Martinez to have been rearrested, Clements ruled that Dees will not have to make good on his $100,000 bond. But he issued a stern warning to Dallas County bondsmen:

"Now let me say this about the INS issue in the future...I feel that deportation from the United States, whether voluntary or involuntary, will not be a basis for relief from liability in and of itself. Whether the INS gives a notice [that the alien can come back in the country to defend their case]...is to me now irrelevant...I do not think it has any bearing on exonerating or relieving sureties or principals from the bonds."

The magistrate also ruled that Dees must surrender 75 percent of the money Martinez's mother paid him, allowing him to retain only $2,500 to cover his attorney's fees for the hearing. And Clements had a few choice words to say about the practice of writing bonds on illegal aliens knowing that they would be deported.

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