Saul Zavala, father of Jessica and uncle of Olivia Munguia and Teri March, widow of Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff David March have a common goal: justice.
Zavala wants Juan Manuel Casillas—currently in jail in Mexico—back in the U.S. to stand trial for the 1999 murder of Zavala`s 15-year old daughter and 17-year-old niece. "He did it here; I want him here," Zavala told me when I met him at the April 5th Victims` Rights Vigil. "Mexico is totally corrupt. I don`t trust anything that goes on there."
March wants Armando Garcia—hiding out in Mexico -extradited to California for the 2002 gangland style slaying of her husband. "Dave was just the best person. He was my whole life," Teri said. "And Garcia is nothing but a drug dealing punk who should never have been here in the first place."
Saul Zavala and Teri March share a common goal—and have experienced the same frustration. Although three years have passed since his daughter was senselessly and brutally murdered, an intense Zavala talks about "justice for Jessica" as passionately as if she had been shot yesterday.
On the wall of the Dolores Mission School where the April 5th Vigil was held were many young victims` portraits. Zavala showed me pictures of Jessica that her classmates signed in tribute. And Jessica`s formal portrait adorned the wall, too.
As Zavala tells the story, Casillas, a legal immigrant gang member from a wealthy Mexican family, hunted Olivia down because she had just broken up with him. Casillas shot Olivia as she and Jessica were walking to high school. Then, as Jessica bent over to help her cousin, Casillas fired again and killed her.
Casillas took off for Mexico.
Zavala`s long nightmare began.
Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Jan Maurizi, talking about the complexity and headaches presented when dealing with a completely uncooperative Mexico, said:
"Our office put so much pressure on Mexico to extradite Casillas and after 3 years of trying, and after we waived the death penalty, Mexico agreed. Casillas was arrested in Mexico on September 5, 2001. Then, on October 2nd, 2001 the Mexican Supreme Court decision saying the country would not extradite in life imprisonment cases was handed down. Now with the rules changed, Mexico again refused to extradite. Although our office demanded that, if they weren`t going to extradite, we didn`t want an Article IV prosecution and would wait for Casillas return so that he could be prosecuted and punished here, Mexico kept him and tried him there anyway."
Casillas was sentenced to 70 years of which, according to Maurizi, only 60 maximum will be served. And Maurizi remains deeply skeptical about that.
"Typically sentences in Mexico are cut in half or more. I know of one case where a murderer was allowed to serve his sentence on weekends. He was picked up back in LA and we had to dismiss the warrant because he had been `convicted` in Mexico."
Saul Zavala, who traveled to Mexico two years ago to hunt for Casillas with a gun, doesn`t believe that Casillas is in jail. Right now, Zavala is in Mexico again to find out for himself. "I don`t believe a thing Mexico says," he told me before leaving.
Zavala points to the indifference shown by Los Angeles Mexican Consul General Martha I. Lara Alatorre as an example of Mexico`s complete disregard for his plight. "I went to see Lara. She made promises but didn`t do anything," said Zavala.
Like Zavala, Teri March has heard promises, too. At a January 31st dinner for the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, Governor Gray Davis took Teri`s hand. "I promise you, you have my word that I will do everything I can for you," March recalls him saying.
But now, with a Candlelight Memorial Service scheduled for April 29th to honor the memory of Deputy March, Davis does not return Teri`s phone calls.
"I just can`t tell you the frustration," said March. "One year has passed and I`m no closer to justice than the day Dave was murdered."
"Where are all of these high-powered people who say they have such a good relationship with Mexico—-Bush, Ashcroft, Powell, Ridge, Davis? Where are they for Dave, that`s what I want to know? In 2001, we gave Mexico $425 million in appropriations but we can`t convince Mexico to do the right thing? What`s that about?"
"Dave loved America. And everybody who knew Dave loved him. And this is what he worked all those Christmases for? And this is what I stayed home for on Christmas—to end up sitting by and watching politicians read poll numbers instead of acting?"
"I sent President Vicente Fox a registered letter on April 9th asking him to do the right thing. We`ll see what happens. I`m not holding my breath but I like to have it on record what I have done and what they have not done."
"These are hard days for me. The District Attorney`s Office and Sheriff Baca have done so much. But Mexico won`t budge. And the people like Bush who could make it happen won`t do it."
"Now I read that the U.S. and Mexico are going to meet on border issues? Are we crazy?"
The meeting that Teri March mentioned took place on April 23, between Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and Mexican Interior Minister Santiago Creel. Its stated purpose was to highlight areas of "improved cooperation" on border issues between the U.S. and Mexico. Check the audacity ["U.S., Mexico pursue common homeland security goals," by Jerry Kammer, San Diego Union-Tribune, April 15, 2003 - pay archive] of Washington-based Mexican Embassy official Carlos Rico: "We have a very intense relationship that is mutually beneficial, and we want to protect it."
(If it is so intense, why won`t Mexico extradite Casillas or Garcia?)
At a press conference in Tijuana, Creel stated that "his country would be willing to help with U.S. border security issues if the United States affords better treatment for Mexican migrants." He also said that "It is much safer if Mexican migrants are allowed to enter with documents and work at legally recognized jobs."
During our conversation, I told Teri that some people have been working for two decades to get Washington to address the inequities in the U.S.-Mexico relationship.
She asked, "What`s wrong with them in Washington? They need to wake up— and soon."
Teri [Send her e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org] is beginning to recognize that she is in the oddest place.
In the U.S. - whether the issue is bogus consular identification cards, driver`s licenses for illegal aliens (would Garcia have had one?), in-state tuition fees for alien students, free health care for anyone who can crawl across the U.S./Mexico border or extradition of violent felons back to the U.S. - Mexico calls all the shots.
Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly newspaper column since 1988. This column is exclusive to VDARE.COM.