An 8-year-old rape case involving a 3-year-old girl and a suspect-turned- fugitive has returned to scrutiny as authorities renew efforts to find Mexican national Pedro Aguirre.
Aguirre, 40, also known as Pedro Vicente, is the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department's sole suspect in an attack on a family in 1999, said Detective Marc Nuno. If found, Aguirre of Jalisco, Mexico, would be arrested on suspicion of rape, two counts of attempted murder, child molestation, kidnapping and burglary. His bail has been set at $1 million.
It was about 8 a.m. Oct. 24, a Sunday, when authorities believe Aguirre forced his way into a home in the 1600 block of Imperial Avenue in southwest Mo- desto, Nuno said. The assailant beat a 34-year-old man and his 26-year-old girlfriend with a tire iron. He raped the 26-year-old in front of her 7-year-old son before grabbing her 3-year-old daughter and running away.
The assailant took the child to a dump in a nearby walnut orchard and raped her, according to initial reports. Two witnesses interrupted the rape, then chased the assailant several blocks before losing him. Covered in blood, the girl walked home.
Investigators said they do not know what motivated the attack.
Both adults later were released from the hospital after suffering major blunt-force head trauma. Doctors at the time speculated that brain damage could be a concern. The 3-year-old required surgery but was home several days later.
An anonymous tip led sheriff's deputies to interview Aguirre the day of the rapes, said Riverbank Police Chief Tim Beck, but there wasn't enough evidence to make an arrest. Beck, one of the case's original investigators along with now-Undersheriff William Heyne, remembers trying to coordinate with airport police in San Francisco to keep Aguirre off a plane.
"We stayed up all night trying to get that guy in custody," Beck said. "But he slipped away."
Trying to make a trial happen
In 1999, Stanislaus County detectives said authorities in Mexico would try Aguirre when they found him because of limits on extradition in the Mexican Constitution. Assuming Aguirre is in Mexico, Nuno hopes he now could be extradited for trial.
"We've had good luck extraditing people lately," he said. Heyne said extraditions are easier to coordinate than they used to be.
Mexico routinely returns fugitives to the United States. But under a 1978 treaty with the United States, Mexico, which has no death penalty, will not extradite anyone facing possible execution. To get their hands on a fugitive, U.S. prosecutors must agree to seek no more than life in prison.
Other countries, including France and Canada, also demand such "death assurances." But, for this area, Mexico more often is the destination for those fleeing, because it is closer.
FBI spokesman Steve Dupre said extraditions are compli- cated by nuances in treaties and also by differences between cases. The Department of Justice's Office of International Affairs handles extradition requests.
When Mexican authorities find a fugitive from the United States, a provisional arrest warrant is the first step, said Dupre. The warrant lets them hold the fugitive until U.S. law enforcement agents come up with a formal package.
"This includes the whole laundry list of indictments, the facts of the case, pictures of the bad guy," Dupre said. "It substantiates that this is the guy we're looking for, why we're looking for him and that we want to extradite him to a certain jurisdiction to face charges."
Authorities review the package to make sure it fits treaty agreements. If it does, a local representative might fly to Mexico with an FBI agent to pick up the fugitive or officers could fly him to the United States to turn him over, Dupre said.
There are no official estimates as to how many fugitives might live abroad, said Dupre. Mexico extradited 73 suspects to the United States in 2007, according to the State Department. Most were wanted on drug or murder charges.
In 2007, the FBI returned 14 fugitives to California from Mexico, Dupre said.
One of those fugitives was 19-year-old murder suspect Cesar Perez. In June, FBI agents brought Perez from Mexico to Los Angeles. Investigators had learned that Perez was in Michoacán. Authorities there apprehended Perez last January and held him in jail for about six months, then brought Perez to Los Angeles, where representatives from the Stanislaus County district attorney's office and Sheriff's Department took him into custody.
Perez was wanted in connection with Ruben Neuman's 2004 death in Newman. Neuman had been standing on a street corner when he got into an argument with several men, authorities said. He was beaten and shot multiple times.
After he was in California, Perez was arrested on suspicion of murder and assault with a deadly weapon. He is expected to join four other young men at the defendants' table when the murder case goes to trial this spring.
Beck, the Riverbank police chief, said he hasn't been able to forget the brutal attack on the family in 1999, though nearly a decade has passed.
"There's been a few cases that you live with every day. And, certainly, that has been one of them," he said. "It was terrible because of not only what that entire family went through, but that we had him and he got away."
Officials ask anyone with information about Aguirre to call Detective Marc Nuno at 525-7081 or CrimeStoppers at 521-4636. Callers to CrimeStoppers can leave an anonymous tip and may be eligible for a reward.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2235.