Chuck Rosenthal: So Tough on Crime That a Suspect Goes Free

The DA doesn't make deals. And that's why Jesus Salazar is living the free life in Venezuela while a teenage girl lies dead, stabbed 26 times.

Initially, Harris County prosecutor Julian Ramirez was willing to go along. But unfortunately for the Ruiz family, Rosenthal overruled Ramirez. He says he is unwilling to make a deal that limits the possible ­prison term.

"The deal is," he told the Press, "I'm not going to cap a crime just because someone fled to a foreign country. (Salazar) ran, and I'm not going to give him credit for running. I try to treat everybody exactly the same and I think it would be unjustifiable to treat him differently just because he fled the ­jurisdiction."

To Andy Kahan, this does not makesense.

Lou and Carrie Ruiz say they will never stop fighting to bring their daughter's killer to justice.
Daniel Kramer
Lou and Carrie Ruiz say they will never stop fighting to bring their daughter's killer to justice.
Photographs of Felicia Ruiz fill her parents' home.
Daniel Kramer
Photographs of Felicia Ruiz fill her parents' home.

"Deals are cut all the time," he says. "Lisa Huerta got one for 30 years for the same crime. So, from my perspective, all this is is basically an international plea deal. I don't think there is any favoritism or special ­treatment. If Salazar remains free, to me that sends a more ­horrific message to murderers that if you kill one of our citizens here and flee to a country without an extradition policy and as long as you can remain arrest-free and as long as we are not willing to cut any deals, you got away with murder. For Mr. and Mrs. Ruiz, to find out that they can actually get cooperation from Venezuelan officials and then have the buck stop right in your own backyard is almost like getting sucker-punched all over again."

Rosenthal says the fact that Huerta pleaded to a 30-year sentence does not affect his decision.

"I wish Chuck would just say yes, but that's his call," says Green.

According to the results of an open records request from the Administrative Office of the District Courts, 1,125 murder cases have been filed in Harris County district courts since Jan. 1, 1999, the year Felicia Ruiz was killed.

Only 33.4 percent of those cases either went to trial or were pled out. Of those cases, 46 percent of the defendants received a sentence less than 30 years while 46.8 percent of the defendants received a sentence equal to or greater than 30 years, and 7.1 percent of the defendants were acquitted.

More than 63 percent of the murder cases filed since 1999 were dismissed.

As for locating Salazar, says Carrie Ruiz, Venezuelan authorities have told her that they cannot arrest Salazar until a formal capture and extradition request has been submitted by the U.S. State Department and accepted by Venezuela.

However, "The Consulate told us they're ready to find him," says Carrie Ruiz. "They say finding him would not be that hard once the paperwork is all signed and agreed upon."

Houston police are looking for Salazar's mother to try to pin down where exactly her son is living, but are unable to find her. She works as a live-in maid, frequently switching families, and does not have a Social Security number, says Houston Police investigator Steven Straughter, making it difficult to track her. Carrie Ruiz says the woman's name is Estella Rosa Salazar, but she is rumored to be using the last name of Esquivel.

Even if Rosenthal agrees to take the deal, says Green, getting the State Department to act may not be easy.

"The State Department has not been very forthcoming," he says. "They don't want to ask anything of Venezuela."

But before the hope of an extradition request can even get to the federal level, it's up to the local district attorney.

"I've always heard that Rosenthal was a big victim's advocate," says Carrie Ruiz. "We're Felicia's parents and we don't like the idea of 30 years; hell, she had just as many stab wounds as that, but we've been waiting eight years to extradite this guy and if we have the chance to do that, we'd rather have him rotting in a Texas prison than free to live his life in Venezuela.

"We've got less than two years now because of the statute of limitations imposed by Venezuela, and if we wait like Rosenthal and the FBI want us to, we may never see justice for Felicia. We need the people of Harris County to put the pressure on Rosenthal and see that this gets done right now."

Jesus Gerardo Salazar did not make much of an impression on Carrie and Lou Ruiz when they first met him three months before their daughter's murder. He seemed nice enough and Felicia certainly liked him. Of course, Felicia liked just about everybody. She and Salazar would hang out sometimes, but mostly the two friends would talk by phone. Because he didn't visit their home often, Carrie and Lou Ruiz did not get to know him very well. Still today, not much is known about the fugitive, and what little the Ruiz family does know comes mostly from the FBI.

Salazar was born in Maracaibo, Venezuela, near the border with Colombia but moved to the United States with his mother when he was four. His father still lives in Venezuela and used to work for the state-owned oil company, PDVSA. Salazar is fairly handsome, with dark brown skin, full lips and a squat nose. His shoulders are rounded like a boxer's and he is described in court documents as quite muscular.

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