WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A Texas woman accused of killing a mother and taking her baby was in the U.S. illegally when she was released from a Kansas jail this summer before immigration officials had a chance to request she be held, law enforcement authorities said.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not receive the July 25 list of arrests from the Sedgwick County sheriff's office that included Yesenia Sesmas' name until the following day, and by that time she had been released, ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said Wednesday. The agency would have asked that Sesmas, a Mexican national, be detained if she had still been in jail, Rusnok said.
Sesmas had been arrested — but was never charged — on suspicion of threatening a pregnant woman with a knife and trying to hold that woman's two daughters for ransom. She posted bond and was released less than 24 hours after her arrest, said Col. Brenda Dietzman, undersheriff for the Sedgwick County sheriff's office in Wichita, Kansas.
Sesmas never showed up for her August court hearing in that case and was a fugitive until her arrest Saturday at her Dallas home. Sesmas, 34, is now charged in the killing last week of Laura Abarca-Nogueda of Wichita and the abduction of Abarca-Nogueda's 6-day-old daughter, Sophia.
The baby was found safe and has been reunited with family.
In a jailhouse interview with Dallas-Fort Worth TV station KUVN, Sesmas admitted that she killed Abarca-Nogueda but said she didn't mean to. She said Abarca-Nogueda had reneged on an agreement to hand over her newborn daughter, and that she threatened Abarca-Nogueda with a gun that accidentally discharged, killing her.
ICE said it asked the Dallas jail to detain Sesmas following her most recent arrest. She awaits extradition to face as yet unspecified charges against her in Kansas. That process could take up to 90 days.
Even if ICE had made the request to hold Sesmas back in July, it is not clear that the county would have honored it. Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter announced in 2014 that the jail would no longer honor ICE requests to hold inmates unless the agency presents a warrant or court order requiring them to hold an inmate in custody. The policy change stemmed from a 3rd Circuit appeals court ruling finding a Pennsylvania jail unjustly held a man on suspicion he might be in the country unlawfully after he posted bail. Several jails across the country have refused to automatically honor ICE requests after the American Civil Liberties Union warned they could be sued.
Now if Sedgwick County gets a request to hold an inmate, jail officials call the agency about two to three hours before that person is released, and tell ICE "if you want them come get them," Dietzman said.
Sedgwick County officials say they have no record of an ICE request to hold Sesmas in custody in Kansas in July. Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said Wednesday that he does not know whether his office was aware of Sesmas' immigration status then, but that he believes an ICE hold means a person can't be released from jail.