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The case has sparked controversy in Ohio, because 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 27th 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.”
Authorities didn’t detain him earlier
It wasn’t the first time Juan Emmanuel Razo came across authorities in the United States, or even in Painesville for that matter.
Three weeks before, on July 7, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office had a run-in with Razo when it responded to a call of a suspicious vehicle parked near a golf course. According to an incident report, officers were told that Razo’s name was Juan Russell and then Emmanuel Razo before they were able to confirm his full name. Razo admitted to them that he was in the country illegally, according to the police report.
“Razo was secured while we spoke with Officer Rivera of U.S. Border Patrol who later decided not to respond to take Emmanuel Razo into custody,” read the report filed by Deputy Donovan Buchs. Since he didn’t commit a crime, Lake County said it couldn’t take Razo into custody, but he “was warned not to return to the property,” said the report.
The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees U.S. Customs and Border Protection, issued a statement disputing the account given by local officials.
“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.”
Outrage has been directed at Homeland Security over the death of Kate Steinle, a 32-year-old woman gunned down in San Francisco on July 1 by another undocumented immigrant who had previously been deported to Mexico five times.
CNN reached out to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office late Thursday night to ask about the account given by DHS and was told to call back during business hours, and an email sent to the chief deputy was not immediately returned.
DHS also 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.