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Tucson, Arizona Sunday, 2 December 2001

Mexican court blocks Ariz. extradition in cop killing

By Howard Fischer

PHOENIX - A ruling by Mexico's Supreme Court is blocking Arizona efforts to bring a man to trial in the killing of a Phoenix police officer 13 years ago.

Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano said Mexico's high court concluded recently that it will extradite accused criminals only to countries - and states - that have a similar sentencing structure to Mexico's.

The court said the Mexican constitution provides that all sentences must be for a specific number of years, said Napolitano.

Because there is no term of life in prison in Mexico, any effort to extradite someone accused of murder will have to be accompanied by a promise not to seek a life term, she said, in addition to existing prohibitions against the death penalty.

Napolitano wants help

Napolitano is asking her colleagues from Texas, New Mexico and California to address the situation when they meet Monday in Newport Beach, Calif.

"I am concerned that Mexico's insistence upon use of its sentencing laws for crimes committed in the United States not only unduly interferes with our sovereignty, but also creates an unhealthy incentive for people to commit grievous crimes in the border areas and then escape into Mexico knowing that they will not have to suffer the types of punishment our system of justice would allow," she wrote to the other attorneys general.

Napolitano said she hopes that their counterparts from Mexican border states, who also will be at the conference, will take an interest.

"I'm sure they don't want those states to become more of a haven (for criminals) than they already have," she said. Napolitano also hopes to get some help from the attorney general of Mexico, who will also be there.

The most immediate problem is the effort to extradite Rudy Romero, wanted in connection with the 1988 shooting death of an off-duty Phoenix police officer during a bank robbery.

Romero is accused of being the second person in the robbery at a branch of what was then a Valley National Bank office. Officer Ken Collings was shot to death.

Efran I. Conde, 25 at the time, was convicted and sentenced to 280 years in prison.

Romero, identified by police as the second man on a bank videotape, escaped to Mexico but was captured last year after being shot by Mexican police in Chetumal. He has been held by Mexican authorities ever since.

Mexican maximum 60 years

Napolitano said Arizona agreed to waive the death penalty, but she had counted on seeking a term of life in prison, without possibility of parole for at least 25 years.

"Now we are effectively being told that we have to stipulate to a sentence for a period of years, which is inconsistent with the Arizona sentence of 25 years to life," she wrote to her colleagues.

She said the maximum sentence in Mexico is 60 years. "It remains unclear whether Mexico will consider any sentence imposed in the United States which exceeds 60 years unconstitutional," Napolitano said.

The situation has left her unsure what to do now.

"Is there a way we can comply with what the Mexican Supreme Court said?" she asked.