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Before killing girlfriend along I-90, suspect had avoided deportation, documents say

UPDATED: Mon., Aug. 22, 2016

Somewhere between Fargo and Moses Lake, Manuel Argomaniz Camargo became convinced that Ana Montelongo Garcia, his girlfriend of more than three years and the mother of their son, was a witch.

It was likely a result of driving nearly straight through from Chicago and the fact that to stay awake, he later told law enforcement officials, he had snorted cocaine and some of the pound of meth he was planning to sell in Washington.

He’d only slept when their Ford SUV ran out of gas in Montana and they waited on the side of Interstate 90 for Ana’s mother, Nicolasa Garcia Rubio, to bring them some fuel. When the journey resumed, they were following Nicolasa to Central Washington as the last night of February became the first morning of March.

The SUV was acting up, and Manuel believed his girlfriend was casting spells to make that happen, detectives said in documents later filed in court. He became paranoid that the cars passing them were police cars. He sped around Nicolasa and left her behind on a dark stretch of I-90. He came to an exit, doubled back east on the interstate for a while, then made a similar move to continue west. They were arguing about 3-year-old Hector, who was in the back seat.

Past Ritzville, just west of the Lind-Odessa exit, Manuel pulled over onto the shoulder, opened the door and pushed Ana out, telling her to call her mom.

About an hour later, a state trooper and an Adams County sheriff’s deputy found him walking along the I-90 shoulder, carrying Hector. Manuel was shoeless and covered in blood.

***

When Manuel was arrested and eventually charged with first-degree murder in Ana’s March 1 death, it was not the first time he had encountered law enforcement since entering the United States illegally more than four years earlier.

He had lived and worked in a Chicago suburb, in Soap Lake, Washington, and on a ranch in Central Washington near Warden. At least twice, he came into the type of contact with law enforcement agencies that could have led to him being sent back to Mexico, government records show.

Instead, he was allowed to remain in the United States. His English was limited, but neither that nor a lack of a visa kept him from working in construction, just as the lack of a driver’s license didn’t keep him from driving.

***

Trooper Chris Kottong of the Washington State Patrol was driving behind the white 1986 Nissan pickup down Dodson Road near Ephrata about 4 a.m. on March 17, 2012, waiting for the shoulder to get wide enough to pull the truck over. It had strayed over the solid white “fog line” along the right side of the highway at least seven times in 5 miles before Kottong found a spot he believed was safe, he wrote later in an arrest report. He hit the lights, and the truck pulled over.

Inside, Kottong found two men in their 20s and an open case of Bud Light, with half the bottles gone. He asked the driver for his license, registration and proof of insurance, and if he’d been drinking.

The driver didn’t speak much English but said he hadn’t been drinking. He had no license or insurance, and his only identification was a card issued in Mexico, with the name Manuel Argomaniz Camargo.

The trooper asked Manuel to submit to a breath analysis, and he refused. To be sure he understood the consequences of that refusal – that it could be used as evidence in court – Kottong called Moses Lake police for an officer who spoke Spanish, not an unusual request in a county where the latest census shows more than a third of the population is Hispanic.

Under questioning, Manuel gave an address in the Chicago suburb of Franklin Park, Illinois, and said he worked in construction but didn’t know the name of his employer.

At the Moses Lake police station, Manuel again refused a blood-alcohol content test and was “completely uncooperative,” Kottong later wrote in his report. He continued to deny he’d been drinking, even though Kottong said his patrol car reeked of alcohol after the short time Manuel was in it.

Cited for DUI, no valid license and having an open container of alcohol in the vehicle, Manuel was ordered to appear in Grant County District Court two days later. He was released on his own recognizance. Kottong drove him to a nearby McDonald’s, where, the trooper wrote, he said he’d made arrangements to be picked up.

In court, Manuel was assigned an interpreter and defense attorney and prosecuted as a first-time DUI offender. He was found guilty of the three charges, fined a total of $1,097.50 and sentenced to 364 days in jail with 363 of them suspended, provided he had no further criminal violations and no further DUI arrests for the five years he would be on probation. He was ordered to attend eight one-hour sessions of a drug and alcohol information course.

By June 2, he had completed the course and presented the court with a certificate. In July 2012, he was given 60 days to serve his one-day jail sentence and to get an ignition interlock device installed on his car.

There’s no record in his District Court file that he did either, and the Grant County Jail has no record of him being booked in, said Chief Deputy Joe Kriete, the jail administrator.

There’s no record that at any point in his contact with law enforcement or the court during the DUI proceedings he was asked whether he was in the country legally.

Born in Durango, he had entered the country illegally at Juarez, Manuel would later tell immigration officials.

***

Washington state troopers are not required to check the immigration status of people they arrest. Instead, they can investigate that status if there’s “reasonable suspicion” to believe a suspect is in the country illegally and alert federal immigration agents, patrol spokesman Kyle Moore said.

“It can’t just be a hunch,” Moore said, and they would have to document the factors that led them to believe a suspect of a criminal violation is an undocumented immigrant.

The fact that a DUI suspect doesn’t have valid identification and doesn’t speak English could be two such factors, but they wouldn’t require a trooper to report the suspect to federal authorities, he said.

Had he been booked without valid identification and such limited English, there’s a chance the jail might have checked his immigration status or contacted the Border Patrol, Kriete said.

Under federal policies at the time, Manuel could have been deported if his arrest and DUI conviction had been reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but he would not have been a top priority. Based on immigration enforcement rules, a criminal conviction could result in deportation, but violent criminals, repeat offenders, organized gang members and those who “pose a serious risk to public safety” were the top priorities. Those with crimes punishable by less than one year in jail or multiple misdemeanors would be given a lower priority, and extra discretion was allowed for “minor traffic offenses such as driving without a license.”

The rules didn’t prohibit deporting anyone in the country illegally, a 2011 memo from ICE Director John Morton said, but “attention to those aliens should not displace or disrupt the resources needed to remove aliens who are a higher priority.”

***

Ana Veronica Montelongo Garcia was 20 when she came to the United States to escape an abusive father in the Mexican state of Jalisco. Traveling on a U3 visa, which is granted to victims of domestic violence, she and a sister arrived in early 2012 to stay with her mother, Nicolasa, in Moses Lake. Nicolasa fled her abusive husband in 2008 with another daughter.

It wasn’t long before Ana met Manuel at a local dance, Nicolasa recalled recently through an interpreter. He was living with a relative in Soap Lake and working in construction.

Nicolasa didn’t like Manuel when she met him – nothing specific, a mother’s instinct, she said – and she didn’t know he was in the country illegally. Ana seemed happy with him, though, and it wasn’t long before she moved in with Manuel in Soap Lake, and later to a house on a ranch near Warden, Washington, where he got a job helping the owner.

After she became pregnant, they talked about getting married but never did. Once they moved in together, Manuel became more controlling, Nicolasa said, keeping track of who Ana called or spent time with. He wouldn’t let her buy things she needed, particularly clothes.

After Hector was born in February 2013 at Samaritan Hospital in Moses Lake, Manuel decided they should move to Chicago, where he had lived with his brother and worked before coming to Central Washington. Hector was just over 2 months old when they boarded a Greyhound bus for Chicago.

***

The two Border Patrol agents boarded the eastbound Greyhound after it stopped in Spokane at 5:10 p.m. on April 10, 2013, and began working back to front, asking passengers about their citizenship. It wasn’t long before they came to Manuel, sitting in an aisle seat, with Ana and Hector across from him.

Ana showed her Mexican passport with the U3 visa. It had expired, the agent said, but Ana told him she had an application pending for permanent residence, and she had a birth certificate showing Hector was born in the United States so he was an American citizen.

Manuel had no such paperwork. He would have to go back to Border Patrol headquarters, the agents said. Ana and Hector could come along, agents said, or they could check on the status of her application for permanent residence by phone.

Rather than split up, Ana agreed she and Hector would accompany Manuel to Border Patrol headquarters, where he was fingerprinted and questioned. Agents eventually filled out form I-213, the record of a deportable or inadmissible alien, based on their time with Manuel and Ana at the bus station and headquarters. A copy of the form, obtained by The Spokesman-Review under the Freedom of Information Act, shows they verified Ana was in the country legally, and her visa had been extended while she sought permanent residence.

Although the report was heavily redacted for privacy concerns for much of what Manuel told agents, it shows agents knew he was in the country illegally and had been for more than a year. After about two hours at the Spokane sector headquarters, he was ordered released for “humanitarian reasons” by the station’s assistant chief patrol agent, and he was given a notice to appear before an immigration judge.

Ana later told Nicolasa that Manuel went to immigration court in Chicago and was allowed to stay in the United States to “keep the family together.” Federal immigration policy allows prosecutorial discretion on deportation of people in the country illegally, recommending “particular care should be given when dealing with … the immediate family members of U.S. citizens.”

When Nicolasa was asked recently what she thinks would have happened if Manuel had been sent back to Mexico after his drunken-driving arrest or when he was stopped by the Border Patrol in Spokane, she didn’t let the interpreter finish the question.

“He wouldn’t have killed my daughter,” she said.

***

In Chicago, Manuel worked in construction and Ana found a job at an electronics assembly plant in the suburb of Franklin Park. Nicolasa said he limited her visits with her daughter and grandson to once a year. Ana and Hector visited her once, and she went to Chicago for Hector’s second birthday.

On her cellphone, Nicolasa keeps pictures from those visits and others Ana sent her, mostly of her daughter and grandson, but some of the boy with Manuel or all three of them together. She even keeps the photos where Hector is blurry or out of focus.

Nicolasa said Ana told her Manuel was home less and less; he worked late, and they argued. In February, Ana called to say she and Hector were coming to Moses Lake to live with her. Manuel, her daughter said, didn’t want anything more to do with them.

She told her daughter to come.

Nicolasa, who works in a potato processing facility, lives with one of her other daughters in a small frame rancher where photos of her daughters and a print of the Madonna and Baby Jesus adorn the living room wall. The development was once housing for the old Larson Air Force Base, which is now Grant County International Airport. The streets retain the names of World War II military leaders like Doolittle and Patton.

After she got the call, Nicolasa said, she thought just Ana and Hector would come and Manuel would stay in Chicago. But in late February she got a call from Ana saying Manuel was bringing them and they had stopped for a while in Fargo, North Dakota. They were going to get a hotel room, but Manuel changed his mind and decided to drive on to Moses Lake.

The next day she got another call from Ana saying they had run out of gas in Montana on a remote stretch of I-90. Nicolasa said she would bring them gas.

***

It was dark by the time Nicolasa reached the Ford SUV, and Manuel, Ana and Hector were all asleep inside. She knocked on the window to wake them up and emptied the gas can into the tank. She noticed Manuel’s eyes were very red and watery, which she thought was because he just woke up. It didn’t occur to her that he might be taking drugs.

She pulled onto I-90 with Manuel, Ana and Hector behind her. They stopped to fill up with gas and continued west through the night. They stopped at a McDonald’s near Spokane, and about an hour later for gas. Nicolasa asked if Manuel wanted to stop and rest. He said they should drive on.

But when they got back on the freeway, Manuel began driving strangely, Nicolasa said. He pulled up close behind her and put his headlights on high beam. He tailgated for a while, then near the exit for Odessa, he sped on ahead. She accelerated to 85 mph, but couldn’t catch the SUV and eventually lost sight of it in the night.

After they got separated, Ana called on her cellphone to say Manuel wanted to stop and rest. There’s no place to do that, Nicolasa recalls telling her. She didn’t pass them before reaching Moses Lake, got off at the exit and went back to look for them, heading east on I-90. But she couldn’t find them and turned back west.

She arrived home at 2 a.m., about the same time police would later determine her daughter died.

***

To drive straight through from Chicago, Manuel later told police, he began snorting cocaine and crystal meth. He told detectives later he’d gotten a pound of meth from a friend and planned to sell it in Washington to get money for a home.

He wanted Ana to sleep, and when she wouldn’t, he told police, that made him nervous and the drugs were making him weird.

“Argomaniz described different things happening with the vehicle and Garcia being a witch and controlling various mechanical functions on the vehicle with her hands, feet and a chip in her mouth,” Adams County Detective Blake Hampton wrote in the affidavit of probable cause filed with the Superior Court.

In the report of that interview, Hampton wrote that Manuel said he thought two cars behind him were police cars; he wanted to get away but Nicolasa wouldn’t let him pass. He told Ana he was going to ram Nicolasa’s car, but then he was able to pass and lose her and the other two cars. Ana was upset, and he pulled over and stopped, told her to get out of the vehicle and call her mother. She did, but when she got back in the vehicle, he told police he grabbed Ana by the hair, pulled her toward him and said she was trying to kill them with witchcraft.

Ana grabbed a pocket knife out of the center console, Manuel told police, and sliced his finger with it. They continued arguing until Ana said she was sorry she had Hector, the affidavit said. At that point, Manuel told Hampton, he took the knife and began stabbing her. They wound up outside the SUV with the motor still running and the doors locked, but Manuel was able to get a framing hammer out of the back of the SUV and used it to break a window. When Ana tried to pull Hector out of the vehicle, he hit her in the face with the hammer, then wrapped his belt around her neck to drag her to the back of the SUV so Hector wouldn’t see her.

But the boy did, Manuel told police, and said, “Mommy, daddy’s not good.” He hit Ana several more times. In the drug-fueled rage that would follow, he would stab her with a screwdriver and try to tape her hands to the steering wheel, so he could put a rock on the gas pedal and have the vehicle drive off, Hampton’s statement says. But her hands were too bloody and the electrical tape wouldn’t stick. He also told police he tried to burn her and the vehicle by shoving part of his shirt into the gas receptacle with the screwdriver and lighting it, but the shirt wouldn’t burn.

Eventually, he wrapped Hector in a blanket and began walking east, away from the SUV.

***

Shortly after 2 a.m., emergency operators in Adams County began getting calls about a naked woman lying near a vehicle on the side of westbound I-90, and of a man walking along the shoulder carrying a small child. By the time Adams County sheriff’s deputies and state troopers arrived, they found Manuel about a mile from the SUV. When ordered to put his hands up, he set Hector down, and the boy ran to a state trooper.

The temperature was in the 30s that morning, Hampton later wrote in his report, but Manuel was walking without shoes and his bare chest showed beneath a jacket. His hands were covered in blood.

Between Manuel and the SUV, they found a black duffel bag and some boots. In the bag was a plastic container, sealed with painter’s tape, with a crystal substance inside.

At the SUV, they found a horrific sight: Ana nearly naked next to the left rear tire, with multiple bruises and stab wounds. Tools had spilled out of the back of the SUV; a hammer was underneath her, a nail puller next to her and a large drill bit in her hair. On the pavement was broken glass, the gas cap and a crystal substance that appeared to be the same as what was in the container. Blood was everywhere.

Manuel was handcuffed and placed in a state patrol car. After viewing the scene, Hampton wrote that he went to the patrol car to get some information. Manuel’s English was limited, but he could answer most questions about his identity and that of Ana and Hector, and for those he couldn’t understand, Adams County Deputy J. Garcia translated.

Read his Miranda rights, he asked for an attorney and Hampton stopped asking questions. Manuel remained in the car about four hours, was taken to an Othello hospital to collect forensic evidence, then to the Othello substation and eventually to the Adams County Jail in Ritzville. Throughout the day, word began to spread of a grisly killing along I-90.

***

Nicolasa woke early on March 1 expecting to hear from Ana. She called her daughter’s cellphone at 7 a.m., 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., but no one answered. She sent text messages that brought no response. She was going to go to the police about her missing daughter and grandson when a friend texted her about an odd story in the news.

A man was found on the side of the road along I-90 with a child. “That’s got to be Manuel,” she recently recalled thinking. Then she saw a story on television news and became convinced it was the father of her grandson.

At the hospital, Manuel asked the deputy what would happen to Hector and whether he would go to jail in Washington or Illinois. At one point, he broke down and began crying hysterically.

News crews from Washington television stations streamed into Ritzville. In the afternoon, they asked to talk to Manuel, and he agreed. But when police brought him into the room, none of the journalists could speak Spanish and he quickly left.

About 3:30 p.m., Hampton, with Undersheriff Adolfo Coronado as a translator, sat down with the suspect in an interview room in the Adams County Sheriff’s Office. He still hadn’t spoken with an attorney, and the two officers were going to explain his right to counsel in Spanish before asking him any questions, court records said.

After Hampton began talking about spending time with his own son, Manuel said the fight with Ana had started over Hector. She was jealous, he reportedly told Hampton, because Hector played more with him than her. At that point, Hampton wrote in his affidavit, Manuel waived his Miranda rights and began talking about the fight, the trip and his girlfriend’s death.

The next day, Hampton’s sworn statement became the basis for a first-degree murder charge, with aggravating circumstances that include gratuitous violence and a death resulting from domestic violence within the sight of the victim’s child – charges that could result in a life sentence if he’s convicted. Bail was set at $2 million, and he was assigned a Spokane attorney to handle his defense.

***

Six weeks after Manuel was charged, defense attorney Michael Morgan asked Adams County Superior Court Judge Steve Dixon to throw out his confession, saying it violated his constitutional right to counsel.

He had asked for an attorney 12 hours before describing events surrounding the death, Morgan said in the motion to suppress the statement. In that intervening time, Adams County officials had taken him to a hospital, a substation and the county jail. They had even provided for a “media appearance.” But they hadn’t allowed him to speak to an attorney. Somewhere in that odyssey they could have put him in a room with a phone and a number for an attorney, Morgan argued.

Adams County prosecutors countered that there was no place at the hospital or the substation for Manuel to have a secure conversation with an attorney. Hampton and Coronado were clarifying his rights and could have provided an attorney and an independent interpreter if he hadn’t waived them and made the statement, they said.

Dixon weighed the arguments, and on April 29, he ruled that Adams County didn’t violate the suspect’s rights by not providing him with an attorney at the hospital or the substation, because no one questioned him about the killing in either place. But the conversation he had with Hampton and Coronado at the Ritzville jail was a different matter, the judge said, and “gives the court pause.”

Hampton’s brief conversation about his son was “tactical” and not limited to clarifying Manuel’s rights to counsel before answering questions and was coercive, the judge said. His blaming the fight on Ana’s jealousy was an admission the fight took place “and effectively let the cat out of the bag before the clarification process was complete,” Dixon ruled. All of his statements from that afternoon session were inadmissible.

State assistant attorneys general were assigned in May to take over the prosecution because of a lack of resources in Adams County. The trial was set for Sept. 27.

***

Although she admits that she didn’t like Manuel, Nicolasa said, she never thought he was a drug dealer. She had no idea he was bringing drugs with them on the trip and doesn’t believe her daughter knew either. She absolutely rejects his claim to police of planning to sell the drugs to buy a house for them.

“No. He’s lying,” she said forcefully through an interpreter. He was going to drop Ana and Hector off in Moses Lake. He would go away, and they would stay with her.

Now, she hopes Hector will stay with her. The day after the killing, Child Protective Services workers brought the curly-haired youngster to Nicolasa. She has filed papers in court to receive permanent custody.

She doesn’t know if she’ll attend the trial, Nicolasa said recently as Hector ran around the house, sometimes coloring or playing with toys, other times trying to comfort his grandmother as she cried while talking about his mother. When she talked with The Spokesman-Review earlier this month, no one had contacted her to tell her the trial date.

Staff writer Rachel Alexander contributed to this report.

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