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¡No Se Deje!
Julio Maldonado became a lawfully admitted permanent resident of the U. S. when he was 3 years old and maintained that status for 39 years. He was engaged to be married to an American and his entire extended family is here in this country. Until the time of the incident that eventually resulted in his deportation, he had no criminal record. Many legal experts and even the Judge in the criminal case questioned whether Mr. Maldonado and his cousin were truly guilty of any crime.
In 1996, Mr. Maldonado and his cousin, Dennis Calderon were walking through their neighborhood to go have a beer. Court records indicate that “a gang of white youths who were drinking beer in the street began yelling racial epithets and throwing bottles at them.” The attack resulted in a fight. Even the prosecutor’s witnesses testified that several white men kicked and punched Mr. Calderon as he was lying helplessly on the ground. They said that Mr. Maldonado pulled a metal steering wheel lock from his car to defend Mr. Calderon. They said that a white man named Christian Saladino ran toward the attackers. Prosecutors said that Mr. Maldonado struck Mr. Saladino in the head causing him to go into a coma. Prosecutors said that Mr. Calderon then got up, retrieved a baseball bat from his home, and used it to beat Mr. Saladino.
Mr. Maldonado said that he only “grazed” Saladino’s shoulder because he had a knife. Calderon denied hitting Saladino with the bat. Their attorneys advised them to agree to have a judge instead of a jury decide the case. These attorneys did not even use any medical experts to challenge the prosecutor’s conclusions. The trial judge, Gregory Smith recognized that the cousins were justified in using force. The judge convicted them because Saladino was not an attacker and that it was reckless to strike him. They were convicted of aggravated assault which requires their deportation under a 1996 Immigration law. Saladino died 2 years later and the two cousins were tried on murder charges. A medical forensic expert testified that there was “no evidence that either Maldonado or Calderon had hit Saladino with anything or contributed to his death.” He pointed out that if someone was hit in the head with the object Maldonado used, it would leave a visible mark and there were no marks on Saladino.
The medical expert also testified that Saladino suffered from a blood condition which caused him to have a fatal spontaneous hemorrhage. Maldonado and Calderon were acquitted of the murder charges and Judge Smith rescinded the guilty verdict of aggravated assault. He ordered a new trial in that case saying that if he had heard the medical testimony he may have ruled differently. Unfortunately for the cousins, the prosecutor did not wait for a new trial but instead appealed Judge Smith’s rescission of his guilty verdict. The appellate court agreed with the prosecutor and reinstated the guilty verdict. After serving 8 years in prison for something that he probably did not do, Julio Maldonado was deported. Dennis Calderon was also to be deported after his prison sentence too.
How can this happen in the American legal system? Two law abiding legal residents with clean records are attacked by racists, serve many years in prison and are deported. The racist attackers were never even charged with any crime. THAT is the crime. ¡NO SE DEJE!®
JESS J. ARAUJO, ESQ.