Karla Patricia Chavez Joya is a Honduran national and an illegal alien resident of Harlingen, Texas.
After her "common law husband" was sent to prison, this enterprising immigrant and feminist role model became the single parent for his two small children—and the de facto leader of his international smuggling ring.
The truck never made it to Houston and 19 of the aliens died from hyperthermia and dehydration.
Fourteen people associated with Chavez Joya organization were indicted on various federal charges, including conspiracy, illegal transport of immigrants and immigrant smuggling resulting in injury or death.
But only one man is really slated to take the fall.
His name is Tyrone Williams and, if Attorney General John Ashcroft and his Department of Justice (Hall of Doom) have their way, he will get the death penalty.
He was to be paid $7500 for transporting the illegal aliens from Harlingen to Houston.
Williams also had a co-pilot in the cab of that truck: a Cleveland, Ohio black woman by the name of Fatima Holloway.
She has accepted a plea offer from the U.S. Attorney.
In exchange for her guilty plea to conspiracy, she received a $250,000 fine, the possibility of life in prison and a recommendation for minimal sentencing for cooperating with prosecutors.
Let me translate that in Bryanna Speak:
U.S. Attorney: Hey, Fatima, if you rat out Williams, we'll let you go.
Fatima Holloway: Umm, deal. I'll need a script.
U.S. Attorney: You're on!
Two very relevant facts:
The Houston Chronicle's Harvey Rice reported:
"Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Rodriguez, lead prosecutor in the Williams case, said aggravating factors include accusations that Williams knowingly created a grave risk of death for the immigrants who survived, committed an offense in a cruel or depraved manner by causing the serious abuse of victims, and that his alleged victims were vulnerable due to age, youth or infirmity." [Feds seek death in immigrant smuggling, March 16, 2004]
The victims were as young as 5 and as old as 91.
(Side note: At the risk of sounding obtuse, the whole they are just coming here to work excuse doesn't extend far enough to cover a 91 year-old man).
So U.S. Attorney Rodriguez claims that Williams "knowingly created a grave risk of death."
But all 74 passengers had already found their way into the United States before they boarded the truck for Houston. Some crossed the Rio Grande with inner tubes. Others trekked the desert terrain in the middle of the night.
After the illegals stumbled into Harlingen, Texas, they were stashed at what are laughingly called safe houses, with little to no food or water (remember that dehydration in the truck—obviously a weak point in the Chavez Joya operation). They were threatened with physical violence and death if they did not pay the requisite $1800 smuggling fee (per person, including children.)
My argument: The people who "knowingly created a grave risk of death" were the illegal aliens—who, of their own volition, embarked on this perilous odyssey.
One of the aliens had her three year-old son kidnapped and held for ransom by two of Karla Patricia Chavez Joya's minions—another common law duo, Victor Sanchez Rodriguez and Emma Sapata Rodriguez.
This Bonnie and Clyde couple then fled to Mexico, although they are apparently U.S. citizens.
Why have they not been extradited to the U.S. to face the charges that Williams is facing?
"[U.S. Attorney Michael Shelby] said he will not make an attempt to have Rodriguez extradited to the United States because it would require him to make a deal…. Shelby said it would send the wrong message to make a special deal for the Rodriguezes, particularly because he already has announced that he plans to seek the death penalty against Tyrone Williams, the man authorities believe drove the tractor-trailer transporting the immigrants." ["Suspect nabbed in Victoria deaths Brownsville man wanted in tractor-trailer case found in Mexico," by Edward Hegstrom, Houston Chronicle, April 8, 2004]
The deal: Mexico does not extradite suspects to the United States unless the possible sentence does not exceed 30 years. All potential death sentences are summarily rejected…regardless of the crime.
So the U.S. is making no effort to extradite the Rodriguez couple.
That's brilliant. We wouldn't want to send the wrong message when the current message from the U.S. government is working so well.
You know—the message that says
"Come to the U.S. to perpetrate crimes then flee to Mexico for asylum! We are too cowardly to sanction the Mexican government for aiding and abetting crimes—and too sanctimonious to seal our borders against their criminals."
Pathetically dim-witted does not quite capture the essence of this long-standing policy. Yet it has all but demolished the principle that crime means punishment in America.
So what about Karla Patricia Chavez Joya, the ringleader?
After she was indicted, she fled with her children to Honduras via Mexico. She was detained in Mexico and returned to the U.S. with what must have been a sweetheart of plea deal. (Details not yet public).
Seventy-four illegal aliens paid her $1800 to smuggle them into the U.S. She arranged everything from start to finish. (Do the math…roughly $130,000 compared to $7500 for Williams.)
2. She personally placed them in safe houses, deprived them of food and water and extorted her hefty fee.
3. She organized the kidnapping and subsequent ransom act of a three-year-old child.
4. She facilitated the hiring of Williams as the truck driver and personally loaded the illegal aliens into the back of truck headed for Houston.
As icing on the cake, in interviews with the U.S. Attorney's office, she admitted to carrying out the same scheme on at least four other occasions.
My best guess was her deal included two provisions:
Here's U.S. Attorney Rodriguez on Chavez Joya:
"We hope she will be capable of providing assistance to find out what other individuals were involved and to ensure that the individuals who have already been indicted are found guilty, and that everything that was done is disclosed." (Judge issues only warning in smuggling trial, by Harvey Rice. Houston Chronicle, June 18, 2004)
Hmm, lucky her.
Attorneys for Williams have appealed the applicability and fairness of the death penalty to the state Supreme Court. (Williams didn't know how many aliens were in his truck, but when he found out, he opened the doors and brought them water before fleeing.)
Recently, District court judge Vanessa Gilmore asked the same question of prosecutors. She demanded for a letter, to be written by Ashcroft, explaining "why you sought the death penalty on this guy, the only black guy, and not on the others."
John Ashcroft has yet to comply.
In the filing, attorneys for Williams included research by Kevin McNally, a Kentucky attorney who works with the Federal Death Penalty Resource Council.
"The Justice Department — in the cases of 68 previous defendants charged with smuggling that resulted in death — never before had sought the death penalty. Of those 68, McNally said, 61 were Latino, three were white, two were black and two were of unknown ethnicity."("Judge asks why 1 suspect faces death penalty, 13 others do not," by Scott Gold, Seattle Times, December 30, 2004.)
I don't think Ashcroft singled out Tyrone Williams because he is black.
However, I do think Williams was singled out because of his ethnicity.
He was non-Mexican. He could not seek refuge in Mexico—as could the others involved.
In the game of drawing straws, he was the only stick.
He can be scapegoated—without offending Mexico.
Imagine that. Williams could get the death penalty, for what amounts to his cowardice in abandoning the victims, at the hands of those even more cowardly then he:
The U.S. government.
P.S. Chavez Joya has now reneged on her plea bargain because prosecutors committed the technical error of not revealing in discovery that a witness had testified that Border Patrol officials were bribed.
P.P.S. The 56 surviving illegals…have been granted legal residence.
Bryanna Bevens [email her] is a political consultant and former chief of staff for a member of the California State Assembly.