The Justice Files: ‘Catch me if you can’

Justice Files

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) –  The family of Jack Richardson was hopeful justice would come their way.

Richardson was murdered in 1979. It wasn’t until 2018 that prosecutors finally charged two men with his murder. But the two men have yet to be found.

The Utah Cold Case Coalition claimed there are scores of cases where suspects flee after they’ve been named in crimes and they avoid arrest and or prosecution.

“We’ve discovered a few instances of which suspects are identified and in some cases even and charged,” said Karra Porter, co-founder of the cold case coalition. “And then the cases never went anywhere after that.”

Like Richardson’s murder.

“It’s been 39 years since he was taken from us and what a cruelty it was,” said Richardson’s daughter Karin Johnstone during a 2018 news conference. “We miss him every day.  We miss him terribly.”

In 2018, the Salt Lake District Attorney’s office filed murder charges against Hector Brito and Pascual Alfenseca.  After the 1979 murder, the two men left the area. They were from New York but are from the Dominican Republic. They 1979 warrant for their arrest expired but it was renewed after formal charges were filed in 2018.  

Despite federal warrants and wanted posters, Brito and Alfenseca yet to be caught.

The coalition claimed the 2002 murder of Miguel Ruellas falls in the same category as Richardson.  He was gunned down in his Orem apartment. The suspect Arturo Avila-Solis fled. There was a warrant for his arrest but this year “in the interest of justice” Utah’s U.S. Attorney filed a motion to dismiss the warrant because it had been nearly 20-years since the crime occurred.

In 2004 Jeffrey Nichols disappeared in Salt Lake county. The year before, Nichols and his then wife, Shelby Brown divorced.

After his disappearance she fled to Arizona and then Ireland. Salt Lake City police never pursued her for questioning.  They concluded Nichols disappeared on his own.

“I want to make it clear that I’m not being critical of law enforcement,” said Porter. “But I also want to make it clear that when it’s a murder case the investigation should continue.”

A former member of Utah’s joint federal fugitive task force said those who flee and remain in the U.S. can often times be brought to justice. 

But Chris Bertram said when a fugitive leaves the country it’s much more complex.

“You’re also using the state department,” said Chris Bertram, a retired deputy chief with Unified Police.  “And with the state department there are diplomatic issues that come up as to how do you interact with the country that you believe that they are in.” 

For example, Mexican fugitives will be extradited from Mexico only if the U.S. agrees not to seek the death penalty. The country doesn’t believe in capital punishment.

But Bertram said 20-years ago, the legislature stripped law enforcement of their power to go after these types of fugitives.

“In 2000-2001, most of those assets were taken away,” Bertram said. “Most police departments do not have the dedicated every day resources to go look for those.”

He said law enforcement has to prioritize who they will pursue. Cases involving homicides and violent crime are at the top of their list according to Bertram. But lesser offenses including second and third degree felonies are on the back burner.

He also said there’s the issue involving jail space. If fugitives are rounded up, he said jails need to make room for them by releasing other offenders.

Meanwhile the Utah Cold Case Coalition said it has resources like the nation’s most advanced DNA laboratory to help law enforcement if they would only reach out to the non-profit group.

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