The Cervantes Zavala Saga: Special Treatment, No Gratitude
July 20, 2005, 05:00 AM
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Brace yourself—the latest episode from the Cervantes Zavala saga will make you sick…or really, really, really angry.

I wrote last week about Rodrigo Cervantes Zavala, the illegal alien from Mexico with three prior felony convictions who allegedly murdered three people in Arizona, abducted his two children (U.S. born) and fled to Mexico.

Authorities located Zavala and the children in Puerto Vallarta earlier this week. On Tuesday, his ex-girlfriend Oneida Isabel Acosta (also illegal) was reunited with her son and daughter.

During an AP interview, Acosta was grateful and relieved to have her children back safely.

So naturally she took a cheap shot at the United States.

In an AP interview from Puerto Vallarta (by Lorena Moguel, July 19, 2005) Acosta said:

"I am so proud of my country. What the authorities of the United States couldn't do, they succeeded in doing here. This is my Mexico!"

My translation: I am so proud of my country…you know, the one I fled because it's a noxious cesspool of corruption devoid of hope and opportunity...

My tip for Oneida Isabel Acosta:

Establish your residence in your Mexico—instead of our Arizona.

Heck, we'll help you pack…consider it recompense for our allegedly inadequate law enforcement.

But, oh, the sweet irony…

Contrary to Acosta's apparent belief, it was Mexican authorities who fumbled and let Zavala enter Mexico, although he and the children was the subject of an Amber Alert.

The 1983 Buick Regal he was driving, listed on the Amber Alert, was impounded by Mexican customs officers in Nogales, Sonora within 48 hours of the kidnapping—and several hours after Border Patrol received the alert.

The Mexican customs say they seized the car because of its faulty paperwork. But they allowed Cervantes to walk on across the border…with the children. (Dad's car surfaces in Mexico, by Kristina Davis, East Valley Tribune.com, 7/17/05)

When I first read all this, my compassionate girly solution to the whole mess was simple:

ICE agents should arrest and deport Acosta when she attempts to illegally re-enter the U.S. later this week.

But alas, my plan was shattered by new information released this morning.

According to the Arizona Republic [Mom reunited with kids 7/20/05] Oneida Acosta is now legally permitted to live in the United States.

"Acosta, an illegal immigrant, is returning to the United States under a humanitarian permit, Mexican Counsel Carlos Flores Vizcarra and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said yesterday."

"She is a witness, Arpaio said.

" 'If critics want to complain I'm smuggling aliens across the border to save two kids, so be it,' he said." [Email Sheriff Arpaio]

"Vizcarra pointed out that Acosta could also receive a waiver to stay in the U.S. and apply for citizenship because the children, who were born in the U.S., are citizens."

Wow, lucky girl.

Now what about her ex-boyfriend? He is also en route to Arizona. For the first time in his life, he is entering the country legally.

Well, in fairness he will be shackled somewhere in a dingy cell but hey, it counts.

According to the Sheriff of Maricopa County, Zavala is being extradited to Arizona where he faces criminal charges for murder and kidnapping.

Wow…a triple homicide with "aggravating circumstances"! (All of them, I think, and in Arizona there are 10). And double kidnapping with aggravating circumstances!

Of course, he will also tow a bundle of what might be called auxiliary felonies such as "possession of fraudulent identification" and "evading arrest".

Zavala would surely face the death penalty had he been captured and prosecuted in Arizona.

But he wasn't—he was apprehended in Mexico.  

And Mexico, notoriously, won't extradite criminals who face the death penalty.

But isn't life in prison without the possibility of parole a practical alternative to a lengthy, unpredictable death penalty trial?

Not any more. In 2001, the Mexican Supreme Court struck down "life terms" as "cruel and unusual punishment."

Now the Mexican government will not extradite criminals without the assurance that neither the death penalty nor life imprisonment will be imposed.

No information has been released from the Maricopa County Attorney's office about what penalty will be sought for Zavala. Nor has a Notice of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty been filed.

But one of two things must have occurred here:

1. Mexico made an exception to its anti-death penalty extradition policy.

2. Or Maricopa County is not seeking the death penalty—either by choice or through a deal it made with the Mexican government.

Odds are that Mexico would ban tequila and soccer before it would allow the extradition to the U.S. of criminals facing the death penalty.

So let's nix option #1.

We can therefore assume with a certain amount of certainty that (if extradited) Zavala will not face execution or life imprisonment

And that makes me a wee bit angry. Let me tell you why.

Just last week, the Maricopa County Attorney's office announced its intention to seek the death penalty for vehicular homicide in the case of 22 yr-old David James Syzmanski.

Syzmanski's case is death penalty-eligible because he was allegedly in the process of committing another felony at the time the victim was killed—specifically, unlawful flight from law enforcement. Additionally according to Maricopa prosecutors, Syzmanski

"knowingly created a grave risk of death to another person in addition to the victim, namely the two other victims in the car with the victim."

By any rational standard, Zavala's crime is far worse than Syzmanski's.

Syzmanski was fleeing police and had no intention of killing anybody. While the resulting death was absolutely his fault, it was executed without malice or deliberation.

Zavala forced his way into the house occupied by his ex-girlfriend's parents and brother, who were babysitting Zavala's two children.

Undeniably his intent was to kill anybody in residence that evening.

He planned it; he waited until he knew his children would be there.

He shot both parents in the back of the head. He shot the brother fatally in the abdomen.

Now if Zavala returns to Arizona, and if he is convicted, he has already been guaranteed a low-grade penalty—a dispensation that a boy like Syzmanski will never receive.

The American who accidentally killed a person while fleeing from police will face a greater penalty than the Mexican who deliberately murdered the grandparents and uncle of his own children.

Many people like to exclaim "Well at least we're getting to punish him to some extent. We can't let foreign nationals think they can get away with murder."

Yep, this one's a toughie.

Criminal law in America is packed with ethical paradox and moral dilemma and this is the bitter truth:

Mexico is a safe haven for the most vicious criminals. These criminals will not be tried in America unless we allow Mexico to dictate an inequitable criminal policy that favors one nationality above another—Mexicans above Americans.

But do we choose justice for one man or justice for all? We cannot capitulate, even once, and maintain the latter.

What we should do: halt immigration from Mexico, including visitors' visas, until Mexico agrees to a more equitable extradition treaty.

And before our kowtowing to the Mexican Murder Lobby leaves the U.S. legal system fatally compromised.

Equal justice before the law...it was such a great idea.

I miss it! 

Bryanna Bevens [email her] is a political consultant and former chief of staff for a member of the California State Assembly.