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Undocumented immigrant charged in crash that killed nun was not flight risk, report says

By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 5, 2011; B01

An undocumented immigrant who allegedly killed a nun while driving drunk in Prince William County had been released by immigration authorities after two other convictions because he had demonstrated that he was not a flight risk, according to a Department of Homeland Security report released Friday.

Carlos A. Martinelly-Montano, a Bolivian who entered the United States with his family as a child in 1996, had two prior convictions for driving under the influence of alcohol, as well as a string of other encounters with police, before the Aug. 1 accident last year.

After Martinelly-Montano was released by authorities in October 2008, immigration courts twice postponed ruling on whether he should be deported or be eligible for residency. The accident that killed Jeanette M. Mosier, 66, occurred weeks before the court had rescheduled a hearing.

The nun's death outraged Virginia officials and fueled an already heated national immigration debate. After the crash, the state stopped allowing immigrants to obtain driver's licenses by using work permit cards as proof of legal residence.

Martinelly-Montano's immigration status came to the attention of police in December 2007, when he was convicted for drunken driving in Prince William. In October 2008, he was again booked for driving under the influence.

Immigration authorities determined at the time that he was an undocumented immigrant and began deportation proceedings, even as he was petitioning the court to legalize his status.

As Martinelly-Montano awaited a hearing, authorities fitted him with a Global Positioning System device and released him.

The tracking devices, used widely in lieu of detention, were needed in part because of a lack of detention space, the report said. Martinelly-Montano regularly showed up for court hearings and other procedural matters.

In following months, however, Martinelly-Montano was stopped by police - for driving without a license in Fairfax County in March 2009 and for driving recklessly in Manassas Park in April 2009 - but police and immigration authorities did not communicate with one another about what each knew, the report said.

According to the report, had that communication taken place and had policies now in place been enacted earlier, Martinelly-Montano probably would have been detained after he served two weeks in jail in late April and early May 2009 for the 2008 DUI conviction.

Given his record of showing up for court proceedings, immigration authorities not only released him in May 2009, but they "did not impose the highest form" of monitoring at their disposal, the report says. It does not specify whether the tracking device was removed.

The report says Martinelly-Montano complied with the terms of his release and regularly reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

ICE spokeswoman Cori Bassett said new agency guidelines are "prioritizing the apprehension, detention and removal of criminal convicts and placing particular emphasis on repeat offenders and aliens who pose a risk to public safety."

Had those priorities been in place when officials released Martinelly-Montano, she added, "it is not likely that Martinelly-Montano would have been released."

Martinelly-Montano had a court hearing scheduled for Aug. 19. But at 8 a.m. Aug. 1 in Bristow, he lost control of his vehicle, and it collided head-on with a car carrying three nuns. Mosier, 66, was killed, and the two others were seriously injured.

The eight-page report about the case was released after Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, and others sued immigration authorities under the Freedom of Information Act. The report's release followed a lengthy court tussle.

"We have experience in how agencies disseminate information," said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch. "This is about the worst of the worst in terms of abusing FOIA and messing with the courts."

Corey A. Stewart, chairman of Prince William's Board of County Supervisors, said he was suspicious that the government was hiding something.

Among other issues, he said, officials had said in February that the report was not yet complete, but the report released Friday was dated Nov. 24, 2010.

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