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Prosecutors Keep Pushing for Death Penalty for Immigrant

(FILE – This undated file photo provided by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona shows suspect Apolinar Altamirano, who is charged with murder in the 2015 shooting death of a convenience store clerk in a Phoenix suburb. Prosecutors have asked the Arizona Court of Appeals to reverse a lower-court ruling that threw out the state’s intent to seek the death penalty against Altamirano. Photo: Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

BY JACQUES BILLEAUD, PHOENIX (AP):- Prosecutors are still pursuing the death penalty against a Mexican immigrant charged with murder in the 2015 killing of a convenience store clerk in metro Phoenix during a robbery, even though a judge has twice dismissed the state’s bid to seek his execution because he has been deemed intellectually disabled.

Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel’s office has asked the Arizona Court of Appeals to reverse a Dec. 17 lower-court ruling that threw out the state’s intent to seek the death penalty against Apolinar Altamirano and concluded Altamirano’s intellectual deficits affected his ability to meet the standard of personal independence and social responsibility for a person of his age and cultural background.

Altamirano is accused of fatally shooting Grant Ronnebeck, a 21-year-old clerk at a Mesa convenience store, after Ronnebeck insisted that Altamirano pay for a pack of cigarettes. Authorities say Altamirano stepped over Ronnebeck to get several packs of cigarettes before leaving the store.

He has already been sentenced to six years in prison for earlier guilty pleas in the case to misconduct involving weapons.

Altamirano has pleaded not guilty to murder, robbery and other charges in Ronnebeck’s death. Altamirano has already been sentenced to six years in prison for earlier guilty pleas in the case and misconduct involving weapons.

Altamirano is a citizen of Mexico who has lived in the U.S. without authorization for about 20 years. He has been deported and returned to the U.S. in the past. President Donald Trump has repeatedly cited Altamirano’s case as an example of crimes committed by immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally against American citizens.

Maricopa County Judge Michael Kemp first dismissed the effort to seek the death penalty in 2019 after concluding that Altamirano was intellectually disabled. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 barred the execution of intellectually disabled people.

Last summer, the Arizona Supreme Court reversed Kemp’s decision, ruling the lower-court judge had correctly considered the strengths and weaknesses of Altamirano’s life skills, but failed to assess his ability to meet society’s expectations of him and sent the issue back to Kemp to consider.

Nearly a month ago, Kemp dismissed the state’s death penalty bid again, finding that Altamirano’s intellectual deficits affected his ability to meet the standard of personal independence and social responsibility for a person of his age and cultural background.

Prosecutors have since asked the state Supreme Court to again reverse the dismissal of the death penalty effort in Altamirano’s case. “If any deficit exists, Altamirano has clearly adapted his behavior to be able to function with the personal independence and social responsibility expected of him,” prosecutor Amanda Parker wrote.

Altamirano’s attorneys told the Court of Appeals in a filing late last week that Kemp’s findings on Altamirano’s ability to meet society’s expectations were supported by evidence, saying “the state utterly fails to identify any abuse of discretion.”

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