(CNN) — For the second time in under a month, an undocumented immigrant has been accused of murdering someone after authorities became aware of their status but did not detain or deport them.
Juan Razo pleaded not guilty this week to an attempted murder charge stemming from a violence-filled July 27 that also included a woman’s killing, an attempted rape and a shootout with officers in Painesville, Ohio.
In addition to allegedly shooting and wounding a woman in the arm, police said that Razo, 35, attempted to rape his 14-year-old niece hours before he shot and killed Margaret Kostelnik, a 60-year-old woman who, according to CNN affiliate WEWS, was the secretary for the mayor in nearby Willoughby for nearly three decades.
He will face those charges at a preliminary hearing Monday, the Lake County prosecutor’s office said.
Through an interpreter and his court-appointed defense attorney, Razo admitted at his bail hearing that he had no license, no identification, no passport and that his birth certificate was in Mexico.
“I have somebody who we don’t know who he is, why he is in this country, why he is here illegally and why he allegedly committed a murder,” fumed Judge Mike Cicconetti.
“I can’t set a bond high enough.”
HOLA, a Latino outreach organization based in Ohio, said it was “distraught and deeply saddened by the (alleged) violent acts committed by Juan Razo,” but it said the real issue was Razo’s mental illness, not the status of his green card.
“Juan Razo was not a random illegal alien. His father is a U.S. citizen who has worked in the fields for 40 years. He filed documents for his children over a decade ago and Juan Razo was a beneficiary with an approved petition who has been ‘standing in line’ for his green card for over 12 years. Thus, this is not an issue about immigration, rather it is about the problems associated with adults with mental illness.”
Similarities to San Francisco case
The episode comes on the heels of a national uproar over the death of Kate Steinle, the 32-year-old San Francisco woman killed at random July 1, allegedly by an undocumented immigrant who had previously been deported five times.
The cases are similar in that authorities in both instances were aware of Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, the repeat felon charged with Steinle’s slaying, and of Razo — as well as each of their immigration statuses; both were allowed to go free.
But unlike San Francisco, a “sanctuary city” where officials refuse to honor federal requests to hold people found to be in the country illegally unless they have allegedly committed a crime, officials in Lake County were quick to explain why they allowed Razo to go free just weeks prior to his alleged crime spree.
It was because they had to, Lake County Sheriff Dan Dunlap said.
Local, federal officials deflect blame
When two Lake County sheriff’s deputies approached Razo on July 7 while responding to a call of a suspicious vehicle parked near a golf course, he “was extremely nervous, sweating profusely, and making every attempt to avoid eye contact,” Dunlap said. “When questioned, he provided a false name, was unable to give any type of identification, and he admitted to being in the United States illegally.”
But because no crime was committed, and Razo had no criminal record, Dunlap said he lacked the authority to detain him, so he said a deputy called the agency that did: U.S. Customs and Border Protection. That’s when Dunlap said Razo became uncooperative.
“As the conversations (between Border agents and Razo) progressed, Razo became less and less communicative, and he would not again admit to the Border Patrol, as he did to the deputies initially, that he was in the United States illegally,” Dunlap said Friday. Because he lacked the legal authority to do so, Dunlap said his office “requested the Border Patrol to issue a detainer/hold authorization to keep Razo in custody… (but) Border Patrol would not issue a detainer.”
“Without legal authority to further detain Razo, he was released.”
But the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said that it was the agency that lacked the authority to detain Razo, and points the finger back at the sheriff.
“Border Patrol agents interviewed this individual via telephone at the request of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office … during that interview, Razo was uncooperative and the agents were unable to determine his immigration status,” the statement read. “Without such a determination, the agents had no legal basis to file a detainer to hold the subject. Although the agents offered to meet with the deputies on site and interview the subject in person, the offer was declined and the subject was released.”
DHS said that Razo’s lack of a record — and the fact that he had been in the United States so long — meant he wasn’t a top priority.
“The (Obama) Administration has set enforcement priorities to make sure our resources are focused on apprehending and removing convicted criminals, gang members, recent border crossers and the most significant threats to public safety and national security.”
Republican frontrunner Donald Trump used Steinle’s death to push his campaign’s tough stance on immigration, including building a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. It appears the Razo case would be no different.
“This is a clear indication of why we need a strong wall protecting our border,” read a statement CNN affiliate WEWS obtained from campaign spokesman Corey Lewandowski. “Mr. Trump is an outspoken critic of illegal immigrants coming over our borders. That’s why it’s so important to have a wall that is impenetrable.”
“We are disappointed to see leaders exploiting this tragedy to promote a political agenda,” it said.
CNN’s Melanie Whitley, Dave Alsup and Diane Ruggiero contributed to this report.