PHOENIX (AP) — Federal authorities say an immigrant was out on bond and awaiting deportation hearings when he killed a Phoenix-area convenience store clerk over a pack of cigarettes.
Apolinar Altamirano, 29, pleaded guilty in 2012 to a burglary charge but did not serve time in prison. U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement took Altamirano into custody on Jan. 3, 2013, after learning of his conviction in Maricopa County in Arizona. But after reviewing his case, ICE found he was eligible for bond, a spokeswoman said in a statement issued Monday.
"After reviewing his immigration and criminal history, which showed only this conviction, ICE determined that under applicable law Mr. Altamirano was eligible for bond. Mr. Altamirano posted a $10,000 bond on January 7, 2013. Mr. Altamirano's removal case was still pending with the immigration courts at the time of his most recent arrest," the statement said.
Altamirano was free on bond when two injunctions against harassment were issued against him in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa. An injunction against harassment is similar to a protection order.
In one order, a woman accused Altamirano of threatening to kill her several times and of pointing a gun at her boyfriend, The Arizona Republic reported.
The last order was issued against Altamirano on Jan. 14.
Altamirano is now facing a first-degree murder charge, among others, after the shooting death of 21-year-old Grant Ronnebeck last week.
Critics say the shooting is an example of the lax immigration policies put into place by the Obama administration. Directives issued by former ICE director John Morton in 2011 provided new guidelines for deportations that focused on dangerous criminals with gang ties or who had been convicted of "serious felonies."
"This administration has taken the position that you have to use violence against an American and be convicted of it before they will take notice if you are an illegal alien," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for more immigration restrictions.
The administration late last year issued new guidelines for deportation that prioritize immigrants who pose a danger to public safety and national security. Immigrants with a felony conviction also are a top priority for deportation under the new orders, which were issued nearly two years after Altamirano was granted bond.
Immigrant advocates say the guidelines protect immigrants who lack legal status but who have no criminal records and who have ties to their communities and U.S.-born children.
Police say the suspect dumped change on the counter from a jar to pay for cigarettes while repeatedly telling Ronnebeck, "You're not gonna give me my cigarettes." Then, the assailant pulled out a gun and repeated the same statement — even as Ronnebeck tried to hand him a pack — before opening fire.
The victim was shot in the face.
Altamirano was arrested after a pursuit across much of the Phoenix area that ended with a crash. In arguing against bail, the prosecutor cited the fact that the suspect is in the country illegally and has a criminal record.
Police searched his car after the killing and found a 9 mm handgun, two packs of Marlboros and several casings of ammunition.