"We'll get him back."
That's what President Bush told the family of slain Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy David March when they told him in May that the deputy's suspected killer had fled to Mexico.
Teri March says her husband was "sucker punched."
On April 29, 2002, March made a traffic stop. The alleged driver was convicted drug dealer and illegal alien Armando Garcia. "During an attempt to pat down the driver, Dave was shot at close range in the chest, in a gap where the vest did not provide protection," Teri March testified last month in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. "Before leaving the scene, Armando Garcia (allegedly) turned and shot Dave point-blank in the head."
San Mateo County District Attorney Jim Fox, vice president of the National District Attorneys Association, also testified. "The suspect," said Fox, "had been deported three times, was a convicted methamphetamine dealer and weapons offender and at the time of the murder was wanted on two unrelated counts of attempted murder.
"He fled to Mexico within hours of the murder," said Fox.
Garcia was home free. The U.S.-Mexican extradition treaty allows Mexico not to return suspected murderers unless U.S. prosecutors waive the death penalty. In 2001, the Mexican Supreme Court expanded the treaty, forbidding return of suspects who faced possible life sentences.
To extradite March's suspected killer, Fox testified, prosecutors would have "to reduce the charges to an assault with a deadly weapon or manslaughter or some other charge that carries a determinate sentence with a guarantee of parole. To do so would violate notions of equal protection and send a message that if you kill a police officer and can flee the jurisdiction, you will get more favorable treatment.
"Los Angeles has not submitted an extradition request," said Fox, "nor do they plan to until the 'life assurances' issue has been resolved."
Teri and Barbara and John March, the slain deputy's mother and father, want to shut down Mexico's sanctuary for murderers. "We have to stop this from happening to anybody else," Barbara March told me.
In April, says Teri March, she wrote President Bush and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. In May, she and her husband's family visited D.C. for the Peace Officers Memorial, commemorating slain law enforcement officers. When she learned President Bush was speaking, she wrote him another letter that she gave to Linda Hintergardt-Soubirous, president of Concerns of Police Survivors. "I was seated on the dais and handed it personally to the president," said Hintergardt-Soubirous. The president had mentioned Deputy March in his speech. After the president took Teri's letter, Hintergardt-Soubirous pointed her out for him. As he worked the crowd, the president spoke to the family. Teri and Barbara and John March, all Republicans who support the president, described the scene for me.
They gave him a bracelet with March's name on it and a button with his picture. "Sir," Teri said, pointing to the button, "this killer took his life and fled to Mexico and has gone unpunished."
The president said, "We need to get him back."
She said: "They will not extradite. You're the only one that can help us. And he said, 'We'll get him back.' Then he gave me a hug."
John March said, "He walked away, and you could tell he was thinking about something, and he turned around and came back and said, 'We have to get this guy.'"
"He spent so much more time than anyone expected, and that's just the kind of guy he is," said Barbara.
"We finally thought we had made it to the mind and the heart of the person who could really make the difference," said Teri.
On July 29, she wrote Bush again, citing their May meeting.
The Marches also met with Feinstein. She came out of the meeting, they believed, with real passion for solving the problem. "During that meeting," Feinstein spokesman Howard Gantman said, "my boss made a commitment that she would do everything she could to try to bring back Mrs. March's husband's killer."
In August, Feinstein wrote Mexican President Vicente Fox asking him to change Mexico's extradition policy. Last week, she introduced a resolution, co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, calling on President Bush to renegotiate the extradition treaty. Her statement said "at least 350 people have committed murder and other major offenses in California, fled to Mexico to escape prosecution, and have either not been extradited or have been effectively rendered non-extraditable."
I gave the White House the above description of the president's May meeting with the Marches, asking if there was anything inaccurate about it, and asked what the president has done to help get Deputy March's killer back from Mexico. The White House did not contest the accuracy of the story.
Presidential spokesman Allen Abney said the White House has no record of receiving Teri March's letters. But, he said, "Mail addressed to the White House undergoes screening procedures that could introduce substantial delays to the delivery process."
"The administration," said Abney, "is determined to work with the Mexican government to ensure that individuals who commit crimes in the United States will be prosecuted here and cannot avoid justice by fleeing across the border. The issue of extradition is raised on a regular basis by administration officials with their Mexican counterparts."