A man arrested in Middle Township on a murder charge in the death of an 84-year-old woman in Puerto Rico was released from jail Friday because Puerto Rican authorities did not want to extradite him.
Local officials said the FBI is looking into why the commonwealth declined to accept an accused murderer back into their jurisdiction and not explain why.
Jonathan Rodriquez-Ocasio, 25, of Fifth Street in the Rio Grande section, was arrested last week on a June 2012 fugitive warrant from Puerto Rico, local authorities said. He had been working at the Cape May Convalescent Center in Cape May Court House and was living at a trailer park in Rio Grande.
In announcing the arrest, authorities lauded the police work that caught him and removed "a violent criminal from the streets of Cape May County."
But on Friday, Cape May County Prosecutor Robert Taylor and Middle Township police Chief Christopher Leusner reported they had released Rodriquez-Ocasio, a native of Puerto Rico, based on Puerto Rican authorities' refusal to accept him.
The refusal to extradite required the fugitive charge be dismissed. Rodriquez-Ocasio was allowed to leave the jail Friday. Leusner said he believed Rodriquez-Ocasio was still in the area.
He was arrested at his place of employment, but Leusner did not know if he still worked there.
Ken Super, chief of detectives with the Prosecutor’s Office, said the state offered to pay the cost to transport Rodriquez-Ocasio to Puerto Rico, but officials there still declined to accept him. Two officers and Rodriquez-Ocasio would have flown on a commercial flight, and the officers would have handed him over in Puerto Rico. The officers then would have flown back to the area, and possibly some overtime would have been paid, Super said.
Super said the total cost would depend on the price of the airline tickets but likely would not have been substantially more than $1,000.
The warrant for Rodriquez-Ocasio was issued in June 2012, but Super and Leusner said they do not have details of the crime or the exact day it occurred. Leusner said when the warrant was issued in the federal Criminal Justice Information Services system, which is handled by the FBI to track fugitives, Puerto Rico said it would extradite from all 50 states. But after the arrest, they changed the status to Puerto Rico only, he said. This is a violation of the network’s protocol, and Leusner said a claim has been filed with the FBI.
Leusner said he has spoken with officials in the FBI and some officers in Puerto Rico he knows but has not gotten an answer as to why they chose not to accept Rodriquez-Ocasio.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” he said. “I’ve tried to use every tool at my disposal to get some answers and prevent this from happening.”
Because the fugitive warrant was changed to extradition in Puerto Rico only, if Rodriquez-Ocasio is arrested again outside the commonwealth he cannot be held on the murder charges, Leusner.
Super said this has happened before with Puerto Rico authorities, and he believes it occurred with one case as serious as this one. The release has nothing to do with the suspect’s guilt or innocence, he said.
“It’s rare. It has happened before (with Puerto Rico) but it’s rare,” he said. “It’s a problem, and it seems to be happening more than we’d like to see.”
According to an article in elnuevodia.com, a Puerto Rican media outlet, Rodriquez-Ocasio was one of four men charged in the 2009 burglary of a home of an elderly couple in Camuy. The victim, Ana Martinez Marrero, was strangled with a piece of cloth around her neck, the report said.
The four men were charged with murder, aggravated assault, aggravated robbery and conspiracy. The three other suspects are in jail, the report said.
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