CHELSEA, Mass. — A man wanted for murder in Honduras crossed the border illegally, moved to Massachusetts, and ended up living near the victim’s daughter. 25 Investigates has learned US immigration authorities let the suspect out of custody twice before finally detaining him again last month.
The series of events that allowed Jose Manuel Cruz Rivera, 38, to flee Central America to Boston’s North Shore has prompted law enforcement experts and the victim’s family to call out the United States’ immigration system for failing to keep Cruz-Rivera out of the country.
Sorrow to Disbelief
Janira Martinez says her father, Gerlyn Jovany Romero, came to the United States legally and worked as a truck driver in and around Chelsea before moving back to his native Honduras a decade ago. Martinez said she spoke to her father by phone every day until she learned he had been shot and killed in his hometown in Honduras in March 2017.
“When someone just takes someone away from you for no reason, you can't just get over it,” said Martinez.
Police in Honduras issued a murder warrant for Cruz-Rivera, but earlier this year, Martinez’s sorrow over her father’s death turned to disbelief – the suspected killer was living with his own family members just blocks away from her.
“I get this call -- And (the caller said) 'hey, do you know the guy that murdered your father is here?' and I'm like, ‘where here?’ And they tell me Chelsea… it's shocking.”
According to a statement e-mailed to 25 Investigates, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirms Cruz-Rivera entered the United States illegally in May 2018, but it wasn’t until a month later that ICE agents learned he was wanted for murder in Honduras.
Martinez says she also contacted local police who arrested Cruz-Rivera as a fugitive from justice in Revere.
“You can’t come to my country and think it’s ok for you to just walk the streets,” said Martinez. “I felt like I had to do something for my father.”
Facing deportation in August, Cruz-Rivera presented documents to an immigration judge that stated he was no longer wanted for murder in Honduras and had no criminal record. As a result, the judge set Cruz-Rivera free again on bond, but almost two months later, ICE says it learned the documents presented in court were “false.”
In its statement to 25 Investigates, ICE wrote: “after confirming that Cruz-Rivera was still wanted in Honduras, ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations Boston re-arrested Cruz-Rivera in Chelsea, Massachusetts.”
Attorney Dennis Ready, who represented Cruz-Rivera in immigration court, declined to speak with investigative reporter Eric Rasmussen after a recent hearing this month. During that hearing, Ready told the government he had no idea the documents might have been falsified.
In a subsequent phone call, Ready told 25 Investigates he is no longer representing Cruz-Rivera and that his former client still insists the documents he presented in court are legitimate.
Another well-known immigration attorney, Todd Pomerleau, is not involved in the Cruz-Rivera case, but he told 25 Investigates that all sides in court share the responsibility for not identifying the exonerating documents as possibly fake.
“If I’m given documents, you do the best you can, but there is a process. The documents have to be shared with opposing counsel,” said Pomerleau.
While the facts involving Cruz-Rivera’s case are unique, Pomerleau says the immigration court system is vulnerable to mistakes as it tries to process a high number of people facing deportation in a short amount of time.
“You go to a sandwich shop and the try to make a hundred sandwiches in ten minutes, you're probably going to be surprised at the order you get. There are going to be mistakes made,” he said. “You’re going to have people who shouldn’t get deported get deported, people who are eligible to get deported not get deported.”
Former Boston Police Superintendent in Chief, Dan Linskey says this case highlights a failure of the immigration system.
“This is a system that failed,” said Linskey. “It failed (Martinez) and her family. It failed our community.”
Still seeking justice
Martinez says she will continue to follow the case against Cruz-Rivera, who’s now back in US custody awaiting another hearing in immigration court where he faces deportation.
“If I have to travel back to Honduras and actually stand in a court to get justice for my dad, I will do anything in my power to travel to Honduras,” said Martinez. “I'm hoping they will hear me and say, 'hey, we're going to put this guy away.' Not only for my sake -- for everybody.”
Statement to Boston 25 News from Immigration and Customs Enforcement:
© 2020 Cox Media Group