Justice hard to come by for Woodburn
More than five years have passed since Ernesto Benjamin Vasquez and Eduardo Solorio Jr. were killed execution-style in Woodburn.
A single armed gunman also injured a third man on Hall Street when he opened fire in September 2008, as the three were getting ready to go to work.
An ensuing investigation and Grand Jury indictment led the Woodburn Police Department and Marion County District Attorneys Office to believe they had their man – a Mexican national named Juan Manuel Lopez-Alcaraz.
But authorities and the victims families are still waiting for a legal process with Mexico that has stalled, allowing Lopez-Alcaraz and other homicide suspects to flee the U.S. and avoid trial.
Ive been working on getting this guy extradited for five years, said Bryan Orrio, a Marion County deputy district attorney.
Working through the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of State, Orrio obtained a provisional warrant, the only warrant allowing U.S. law enforcement officers to take someone into custody outside of the U.S.
But it can only be used in cooperation with Mexican law enforcement.
Even with the warrant, that does not give us permission to go into another country, he said.
Orrio would not comment on whether the issue is political will or lack of resources on behalf of Mexican law enforcement.
I can only speculate about what is holding up the Mexican authorities making the arrest, Orrio said. I dont know what it is.
The double murder case has the fingerprints of the Mexican drug cartels, Orrio said.
There are some indicators based on the execution-style slaying of these two victims, he said. Its my natural suspicion that it is gang-related or cartel-related. It wasnt a personal dispute or something. He immediately went to Mexico.
The presence of high level drug trafficking organizations (at the very least) is evident in Woodburn, said Scott Russell, chief of WPD, who pointed to the violent impact that they are having on local communities.
Russell cited a couple of other drug-related homicide cases in Woodburn which occurred before extradition policies were changed, where suspects fled to Mexico but were brought to justice.
In one case, Arnulfo Duarte-Anguiano was arrested and stood trial in absentia following the 1994 drug-related shooting death of Rogelio Alvarez-Diaz in Woodburn.
The arrest followed extensive and pricey investigative work that involved international cooperation, Russell said.
Duarte-Anguiano was later arrested and has been serving time in a Mexican prison for the murder.
In another case, Amadeo Madrid Morga also was convicted in absentia in Mexico for the 1993 killing of Mihail Kutsev in Legion Park. The shooting also was drug-related, Russell said.
Morga was arrested in 2007 in Mexico, but Woodburn received notification just a few months ago that he was serving time for the crime in a Mexican prison, he said.
But the Mexican authorities have been less willing or less able to cooperate recently since the drug wars have escalated, Russell said.
The change occurred following a treaty that allows U.S. prosecutors to extradite Mexican nationals for trial in the U.S., Russell said. The extradition is contingent upon district attorneys in the U.S. not seeking the death penalty, he said.
Since the treaty, arrests and extraditions have dried up, creating a problem for U.S. prosecutors, including those in Marion County and Oregon.
The FBI and U.S. Marshals Service were able to get federal and Mexican warrants in the 2008 homicide case, but without an arrest being made, no extradition was possible.
The dilemma, as its been told to us, is that theyve deployed all their fugitive officers to serve on the drug wars and theyre not seeking to serve these out-of-country warrants at this time, Russell said. I dont think its so much that theyre too busy – its that theyve chosen to deploy their assets in different ways for the last three years at least.
Marion County District Attorney Walt Beglau said the Woodburn case is one of several that have occurred in the state where suspected violent criminals have fled to Mexico.
It has been a difficult experience getting the appropriate international response, Beglau said. We have worked with federal officials and the FBI, but once we cross the border, its been a difficult experience for us.
The issue is not about compliance with treaty obligations, but getting support and cooperation, Beglau said.
There is a lack of accurate information, a lack of cooperation and a lack of confidence in the local authorities in executing the law, he said.
Beglau pointed to several cases where the connections are possible to make with someone involved in a violent crime who works for high level drug trafficking organizations.
If they can retreat to Mexico, theyre going to be covered by the drug trafficking organizations, Beglau said. They have endless resources and are very sophisticated.
Those organizations also have a strong presence in Marion County and in Woodburn, he said.
For Chief Russell, the pursuit of justice in the Hall Street case will not end until the suspect is captured and tried in a court of law.
The message is, We dont give up, he said. While the current system is not workable, we will continue to work with the U.S. government and the Mexican government until we get it done.