Julio Maldonado faces flying into an uncertain future if federal authorities succeed in deporting this former construction worker to Peru, the South American country he left 39-years-ago as a three-year-old child.
Maldonado faces deportation due to dictates of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA).
This law requires expulsion of both illegal immigrants and legal aliens like Maldonado who have criminal records.
Maldonado’s predicament is truly Kafkaesque from the circumstances producing his criminal record to the fact that federal authorities imprisoned him for four years based on his refusal to sign his deportation papers.
Maldonado resisted the deportation stressing he was wrongfully convicted, a claim supported by medical evidence, a jury’s verdict and a judicial ruling.
The case involving Maldonado and his cousin Denis Calderon has become a mini-controversy in Philadelphia, Pa, the city where they were convicted in 1997.
The prosecutor who convicted these cousins – Seth Williams – is widely recognized as front-runner in this year’s race to become Philadelphia’s next District Attorney. If the highly qualified Williams wins the November election as expected, he will become the first African-American elected as Philadelphia’s top prosecutor.
Williams terms the predicament of Maldonado and Calderon (who also faces deportation to Peru) “unfortunate” but Williams vigorously denies that their convictions constitute a miscarriage of justice.
“What I did in that case was stand up for the victim!” Williams said recently. “Maldonado and Calderon were found guilty.”
An advocate for Maldonado/Calderon, their cousin Maria Rolon, decries the convictions and deportation of her kin as unjust persecution. “They were the victims of a hate crime and have been discriminated against since then,” said Rolon, whose advocacy actions include creating a website http://denisandjulioandfaith.com/.
In August 1996 Maldonado and Calderon were attacked in the Oxford Circle section of Northeast Philadelphia by a crowd of drunken white males shouting racist slurs.
Maldonado, who lived in New York City at the time, was visiting Calderon who lived in Oxford Circle, the only Latino family in a predominately white area.
When the cousins walked towards a neighborhood bar to buy a beer, crowd members confronted them, shouting anti-black slurs, mistakenly thinking they were African-American.
When Calderon told crowd members that he and Maldonado were Latinos the slurs shifted from N-word based to anti-Hispanic epithets. As the cousins retreated towards Calderon’s home members of the crowd chased them, raining beer bottles on them before pouncing.
During that attack, one member of the crowd, 18-year-old Christian Saladino, collapsed and was hospitalized comatose. Police arrested the cousins after crowd members told police the cousins attacked them and pounded Saladino with metal objects.
Police did not lodge any charges against any of the drunken attackers who freely admitted using racist slurs, throwing bottles and battling with the cousins.
Calderon says one drunk slugged him as he talked with a policeman and the officer ignored that assault. Yet when Calderon sought to hit that attacker, the policeman handcuffed Calderon.
Seemingly biased police enforcement in racially charged incidents is a recurring problem in the predominately white Northeast section of Philadelphia. Rolon said police and prosecutors also ignored the intense intimidation unleashed on neighbors supportive of Calderon.
While Seth Williams currently characterizes that 1996 clash as a “street fight” between “a large crowd of white teenagers” and the two Hispanic males, Rolon says that attack by a “racist mob” forced her cousins to defend themselves.
Williams concedes the cousins had a right to self-defense but says the pair lost their right to self-defense when they escalated the fight by using weapons: a baseball bat and a ‘Club’ auto steering wheel lock.
Williams argued in court that Saladino was an innocent bystander who Maldonado maliciously struck on the base of his skull with the ‘Club.’ That blow, Williams said recent, triggered a hemorrhage that incapacitated Saladino.
Maldonado had taken the ‘Club’ from his car as attackers pummeled him.
Maldonado admitted swinging the ‘Club’ at a man he saw stabbing Calderon but testified that he merely grazed the shoulder of this assailant prosecutor Williams later championed in court as “the victim” – Saladino.
After Maldonado freed Calderon from those men bashing him, Calderon ran into his house, telling his wife to call 911. Rolon said Calderon went back outside to rescue Maldonado from the crowd, taking a bat with him because crowd members were on his porch threatening to burn the house down.
Williams says Calderon should have waited for police to arrive instead of leaving his house armed with that baseball bat.
Williams, Philadelphia’s former Inspector General, remains convinced that Maldonado blow caused Saladino’s coma.
Williams maintains this position despite no medical records specifically documenting blunt force trauma as the cause of Saladino’s collapse. For example, medical records cited in the most recent Pa appellate ruling in this case list the cause of Saladino’s collapse and subsequent coma as “unknown.”
EMT personnel who treated Saladino at the clash scene, ER doctors and CAT scans did not find any signs of blunt force trauma to Saladino’s head or body consistent with accounts from Saladino’s friends who testified later that the cousins brutally beat Saladino on the head, back and stomach with those metal objects.
Tests did prove that Saladino was legally drunk at the time of his collapse. EMT personnel suspected a drug overdose and gave an overdose countering injection. Medical tests were not performed to determine drug levels in Saladino’s body.
Rolon faults Williams for downplaying that Calderon was a hard-working family man and homeowner with “no reason to attack twenty drunks.” She also scores Williams for sidestepping Saladino’s history of arrests for violence which undercuts contentions that Saladino was a mere bystander.
One appellate ruling noted an arrest of Saladino days before the brawl for attacking a policeman. Williams says Saladino’s record was irrelevant to the fact that he was viciously beaten. Saladino collapsed in front of Calderon’s house. According to testimony, Saladino ran to the street in front of Calderon’s house after the fight started.
A Philadelphia judge convicted the cousins on assault and conspiracy charges in 1997, accepting contradictory testimony from members of that drunken, racist-slur spewing crowd. The cousins received identical 2-10-year sentences.
When Saladino died two years after the clash, prosecutors filed murder charges against Maldonado and Calderon contending the young man’s death was a direct result of the beating.
But a jury acquitted the cousins based largely on testimony from a forensic pathologist who provided evidence that Saladino’s rare blood disorder most likely caused his 1996 collapse.
A report prepared by that pathologist prior to the murder trial stated it was his “opinion that Christian Saladino could have collapsed as the result of either a pre-existing natural disease process or drugs of abuse. However, his medical condition was not as the result of being struck by an instrument/weapon such as a club.”
That pathologist did not testify during the assault trial.
That murder trial medical testimony caused the Philadelphia judge who initially convicted the cousins to overturn their clash related convictions.
But prosecutors appealed that judge’s ruling, securing reinstatement of those clash convictions on a technicality that contradicted their position during the assault trial of the cousins.
Prosecutors successfully argued that the failure of the pathologist to testify at the assault trial did not harm the cousin’s defense because their trial lawyers got the prosecution’s principal medical expert to admit that no records showed Saladino’s condition stemmed from external trauma like a beating.
Yes, prosecutors conceded in appellate court what they had denied in trial court: no medical records documented that the glancing blow from Maldonado and/or the alleged beating by Calderon caused Saladino’s collapse.
After Maldonado and Calderon served more than two years in prison for the clash related conviction, federal authorities initiated deportation proceedings. When the cousins refused to assist with their deportation by signing required papers, the feds imprisoned them in 2005 for failing to cooperate.
Maldonado served four years in a Pennsylvania jail contracted by federal immigration authorities. Calderon remains in an immigration prison in Pa serving the sentence for refusing to sign his deportation papers. Federal authorities re-imprisoned Maldonado shortly after his release months ago and now push for his deportation to Peru.
“My cousins are innocent and we know that once they are deported, it’s a permanent exile,” Rolon said.
“I didn’t want to go public with this. I just wanted Seth to do the right thing, acknowledge that my cousins were victims and oppose their deportation,” said Rolon,
“We’ve been told that Julio was sent to Louisiana and apparently will be deported,” said Rolon said who’s petitioned Pa’s Governor Ed Rendell for a full pardon and is separately petitioning Homeland Security officials to stay her cousins deportation until Rendell decides the pardon request.
Defenders of Seth Williams say he did his job properly in prosecuting Maldonado/Calderon for assault, the later murder charge and challenging their appeals.
In a fair system prosecutors would actively seek to right wrongful convictions.
A Pa Supreme Court ruling in 1889 declared that the duty of prosecutors is to seek “justice only…and it is as much the duty of the district attorney to see that no innocent man suffers as it is to see that no guilty man escapes.”
However, in Philadelphia’s often perverted justice system, prosecutors routinely pursue justice crushing convict-at-all-costs practices that frequently involve bending or breaking the law.
Nearly two-thirds of the cases where Pa courts overturned convictions due to misconduct by prosecutors originated in Philadelphia according to an extensive investigation conducted by The Center for Public Integrity examining a 33-year period.
Compounding convict-at-all-costs practices by Philly prosecutors is their penchant for clawing to maintain tainted convictions.
Courts have faulted some famous Philly prosecutors for foul practices.
The Pa Supreme Court, in a stinging 1978 ruling, blasted a then former Philly DA Office official for “misleading” testimony in a murder case where he helped his former colleagues perpetrate “a fraud” to secure a conviction.
The name of the official specifically cited in that ruling is Ed Rendell, Pa’s Governor who served two terms as Philadelphia District Attorney.
Changing the “culture” among Philadelphia prosecutors – including eliminating convict-at-all-costs practices – is a key campaign pledge of Seth Williams…a pledge that Rolon and others wonder if Williams will fulfill.
LINN WASHINGTON JR. is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune who writes frequently about justice system issues.