May 26, 2011
In a Sanctuary City, An Illegal Immigrant Gets the Death PenaltyBy David Paulin
Areli Carbajal Escobar, a violent 32-year-old illegal immigrant from Mexico, had a long rap sheet. Over the years in the sanctuary city of Austin, Texas, police and prosecutors had many contacts with him.
Yet Escobar was never deported.
Now, immigration problems are the least of Escobar's worries. Last week, a Travis County jury sentenced him to death for the brutal rape and murder of a high school honor student.
Texas may lead the nation for executions, but most condemned murderers aren't from Austin, the capital, and surrounding Travis County -- for both are enclaves of liberal Democrats in an otherwise red state. In Travis County, murderers aren't often sentenced to death.
But an exception was made for Escobar -- given the brutality of his crime, lack of remorse, and long criminal history. As a reader of the Austin American-Statesman observed in an online comment: "When a latte-sipping, Volvo-driving, NPR-listening Travis County jury straps you down, you know you've earned it!"
The trial of Areli Carbajal Escobar captivated Austin and provided a glimpse into the world of sanctuary cities and illegal immigration. According to court testimony, he was born in Central Mexico to poor and illiterate parents; when he was six his father immigrated illegally with him to Texas. But Escobar didn't grow up to be a poster child for the DREAM Act. A gang member, he was fond of beating up and terrorizing women, including his wife -- facts known to Austin's police. In one incident, he shoved a friend of his wife's against a wall and held a screw driver against her neck. He was involved in organized crime relating to car burglaries and had a long list of other offenses: drunk driving, driving with a suspended license, and other such offenses.
Yet despite numerous brushes with the police and courts, Escobar's immigration status never apparently raised eyebrows. Nobody should be surprised: Austin is a sanctuary city. Police there invariably turn a blind eye to the immigration status of suspects and illegal immigrants who aren't causing major problems. By doing this, police claim they're better able to fight crime, because illegal immigrants will supposedly be more comfortable dealing with the police and report crimes. It's a questionable law-enforcement philosophy, however. And it's undercut by what seems to animate it -- an open-borders philosophy and politically correct notion that immigration enforcement amounts to "racial profiling."
In 2009, Escobar committed a crime that was too much even for open-borders Austin and its touchy-feely criminal-justice system. He forced his way into an apartment near his own, then brutally raped and murdered a 17-year-old single mom and high school student named Bianca Maldonado. She put up a struggle, but died of blood loss from a terrible beating and 47 stab wounds. Her 1-year-old son, Cesar, suffered a cut hand and bruised eyes.
Why did Escobar do it? A forensic psychologist for the defense testified that Escobar was in a "psychotic state" and animated by a rage he felt for his girlfriend. "I think he spun out of control," said Matthew Ferrara. He added that Escobar had a "borderline personality disorder" and there was a "98.2 percent" chance he wouldn't commit a violent crime in prison -- if sent there instead of going to the death chamber. The jury didn't buy any of it. Nor was the jury moved by testimony from Escobar's loyal family members who called him a good man. "To me, he's the most wonderful person in the world," said Escobar's 21-year-old sister Nancy.
Escobar was tied to the crime through DNA evidence and fact that he briefly answered his cell phone during the assault, and his girlfriend at the time heard some of what was happening -- a woman's screams, grunts, and groans. Escobar was separated at the time from his wife with whom he'd had five children. The children are receiving counseling.
Escobar didn't know Maldonado. When he raped and killed her, he was unemployed, separated from his wife, and, according to his girlfriend at the time, "stressed out." He also was in trouble with the law again; a Travis County judge had released him on a "personal recognizance bond." In Travis County, such bonds are approved more often than anywhere else in Texas.
Maldonado was a sympathetic victim. The Statesman continually reminded readers that she was not just another Latina who, like so many others in Austin, had a baby as a teen and dropped out of high school. Rather, she was getting her life together. She was described as an honor student who had a "B" average -- all while caring for her baby and working a part-time job at a Jack in the Box managed by her mother. She was destined to go to college, her teachers said.
Escobar's trial got prominent news coverage, but Austin's news media tiptoed around Escobar's immigration status. As is often the case, one had to read between the lines in newspaper and television coverage to figure it out; or check a web site operated by the Travis County Sheriff's office: It shows an "immigration hold" for Escobar.
Illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America -- mostly poor and uneducated -- have free run in Austin. Escobar is one example. His home in Mexico had a dirt floor; there was no indoor plumbing or electricity. The abject poverty of his early years and illiterate parents were introduced during his trial's penalty phase -- part of an effort by defense lawyer to win the jury's sympathy and spare Escobar from the death penalty.
The trial had some strange moments. One of Escobar's lawyers suggested that wounds made by a "hard object" to Maldonado's vagina and anus were inflicted after her death. It was an important legal technicality. As the Statesman explained: "Because sexual assault is a crime on a live person, if the jury finds that there was no sexual assault, then Escobar could only be found guilty of murder and would not qualify for the death penalty."
Why wasn't Escobar deported years ago after first attracting the attention of Austin's police, prosecutors, and judges? It's a question that even Austin's liberals are now asking, including Statesman columnist Alberta Phillips. "Law enforcement officials need to explain to Bianca's mother -- and this community -- why Escobar, with a rap sheet of serious crimes, was not in jail or sent back to Mexico," Phillips wrote. Her column's title aptly summed up Escobar's life: "A History of Violence." Phillips was outraged that Austin's police didn't do more to keep Austin's "Latinas" safe from Escobar.
But at least Maldonado's mother, Jaqueline Hernandez, was satisfied that Escobar got the death penalty. Speaking in Spanish, she said: "I feel good. I feel like it's justice." She'd discovered Bianca's mutilated body when she and a second daughter came home from a job delivering newspapers.
One of Republican Gov. Rick Perry's priorities has been to pass legislation to essentially outlaw sanctuary cities. But two separate bills that passed the House have stalled in the Senate, blocked by Democratic lawmakers who say the bills would lead to "racial profiling" and undercut the relationship between the police and Latino community.
Racial profiling, however, wouldn't occur if police had a reason to check on a suspect's immigration status. And it's also questionable that the bill would hamper the police by undermining their relationship with the Latino community. For one thing, many unassimilated Latinos are reluctant to cooperate with the police anyway, even when it's in their interest to do so. It's not because they're afraid of being deported. It's become of their culture, a fact that's well known to police.
According a Berlitz-style guide on Spanish language and culture used at a local police academy, unassimilated Latinos "will most likely side with each other than an outsider. An individual will assist family members and friends regardless of the consequences, and expect the same in return. A sense of honor is so important in Latino culture, that it may keep an individual from cooperating with the police against a friend or family members, even though he or she may not condone any of the actions."
Interestingly, some Latina women did phone Austin's police about Escobar, but then failed to do the necessary follow-up with a detective -- and detectives failed to follow-up with the women who'd filed the initial complaints. So much for the desire of Austin's police to have splendid cooperation from the Latino community in order to fight crime. Escobar thus continued his rampage, until raping and murdering Maldonado.
Austin's police and prosecutors have much explaining to do regarding Escobar -- and liberals for a change are demanding answers in a city where the large Hispanic subculture will, thanks to changing demographics, be the prevailing culture in not too many years.
Editor's Note: For more on the sanctuary city of Austin, Texas, see two previous articles at The American Thinker: "Hit-and-Run: Death in a Sanctuary City" and "Uproar Over Illegal Charged with Vehicular Homicide in Texas."