Journal Times editorial: Prosecute crimes regardless of immigration status
Our Perspective

Journal Times editorial: Prosecute crimes regardless of immigration status

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We know that district attorney’s offices drop cases for all manner of reasons; witnesses in cases refuse to cooperate, for example, or defendants or witnesses have died.

We haven’t, however, seen cases dropped because of the immigration status of the defendant.

Two men accused of raping the same 12-year-old girl have had charges brought against them in the past year, and each faced a maximum sentence of at least 60 years in prison. They also are facing deportation.

One of their cases was dismissed in March in part because the suspect, 38-year-old Juan Ramon-Pacheco, was likely going to be deported to Mexico, according to court documents reviewed by The Journal Times.

The other suspect, Lorenzo Bernabe-Lucas, 29, who allegedly impregnated the 12-year-old, was charged Sept. 4 with first-degree sexual assault of a child under the age of 13. He is being held in the Racine County Jail on an immigration detainer, Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling confirmed.

Bernabe-Lucas is from Guatemala and had entered the U.S. illegally, according to Shawn Neudauer, a public affairs officer for ICE. Ramon-Pacheco is a Mexican national.

Nielsen said he wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to dismiss the charges, but deferred to the judgment of the District Attorney’s Office and approved the motion anyway.

“I have seen a lot weaker cases proceed to trial,” Nielsen said on March 22. “I am trying to understand why (the prosecutor) wants me to dismiss other than the fact that the gentleman will be deported ... In this case: an accusation of sexual assault of a child. You appear to have a fair amount of pretty clear evidence that he committed these crimes.”

Representing the state via the District Attorney’s Office, Assistant District Attorney Diane Donohoo argued that by dropping the charges, even if Ramon-Pacheco were considered to be a danger, public safety wouldn’t be at risk considering Ramon-Pacheco could be deported.

As of Sept. 6, Ramon-Pacheco was still being held at Kenosha County Jail, more than five months after charges against him were dropped.

“He will be subject to deportation proceedings. He has been in custody for a substantial period of time here,” Donohoo said on March 22. “Given all of that, I believe that it is in the best interests of the victim and it does not harm the public that this case be dismissed at this time.”

After Nielsen questioned Donohoo on why weaknesses weren’t revealed “long ago” — Ramon-Pacheco had been in custody since Sept. 12, 2018 — Donohoo said that she doubted a jury would convict, despite having testimony from the victim saying that Ramon-Pacheco had raped her multiple times.

Bernabe-Lucas allegedly raped the girl two or three times between May and July 2017, according to a criminal complaint, although he only faces one charge. The girl gave birth after 38 weeks of pregnancy, according to court documents.

Bernabe-Lucas was arrested in Levy County, Fla., on Aug. 13, after more than a year on the run, according to a press release from Levy County’s Sheriff’s Office. He was booked in Racine County on Aug. 31 and received the immigration detainer the next day, Schmaling said.

Ramon-Pacheco cooperated with investigators in providing information that helped track down Bernabe-Lucas, according to the Racine County District Attorney’s Office, although Bernabe-Lucas wasn’t arrested until more than four months after the charges against Ramon-Pacheco were dropped.

These are serious accusations, of an especially heinous crime: The sexual assault of a child. Suspects in the case were identified and taken into custody.

Crimes committed in Racine County should be prosecuted in Racine County, and those found guilty of serious crimes should serve time in Wisconsin prisons.

The immigration status of a defendant is utterly irrelevant to whether his or her case should go to trial. At least it should be.

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