County grand jury error leads judge to dismiss one of the four counts
Mexican citizen brought from Mississippi prison to face renewed charges for 2009 incident, rollover of weed-packed vehicle
UPDATE:On February 3, Luis Alberto Coronado-Lucero was sentenced to three years in state prison after pleading guilty to one count of theft of means of transportation as part of a plea bargain.
Deputy public defender William Brown presented arguments for placing Coronado on probation instead of prison and Coronado addressed the judge, noting he wanted probation because “I have a daughter who I don’t even know.”
The father of six also noted his family in Mexico is “struggling without me.” He has been serving a federal prison sentence in Mississippi the last few years. However, prosecutor Thomas Bennett reminded Hoggatt that Coronado, age 35, has already served three federal prison sentences for re-entering the United States after being deported numerous times, showing his disregard for court orders.
The judge expressed empathy for the family’s situation and said he believed Coronado was “sincere” in expressing remorse for his actions. However, Hoggatt ruled a three year sentence was “warranted and appropriate.” The judge also assessed nearly $1,000 in fines and fees based on 2009 rates, and noted the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement will be informed of the findings in this case.
It was revealed during the sentencing hearing that Coronado had his spleen removed due to injuries he sustained in the accident.
BISBEE – Luis Alberto Coronado is sitting in the Cochise County jail awaiting trial on charges stemming from a rollover accident of a marijuana-laden vehicle in 2009 near Sunizona. How 34 year old Coronado, a Mexican citizen, came to be in custody seven years after the accident is a tale of missed opportunities, failed deportations, and a real life example of the adage that a prosecutor “can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.”
Court records show Coronado, a Mexican citizen, was not supposed to be in the United States at the time of the 2009 accident. He had been deported – for the sixth time – in May 2007 by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after serving an eighteen month sentence for illegal entry, his third stint in federal prison for immigration crimes.
Coronado was indicted September 15 of this year by a Cochise County grand jury on one count of possession of marijuana for sale, two counts for theft of means of transportation, and one count of criminal damage to a utility. He was arraigned November 14 in Cochise County Superior Court by presiding judge James Conlogue and two days later William Brown of the public defender’s office was appointed as Coronado’s defense attorney.
Brownfiled a motion November 18challenging the fourth count of the indictment, arguing that the county attorney’s presentation to the grand jury included no mention of a utility, let alone damage to a utility. According to the motion, “without any evidence whatsoever having been presented to the Grand Jury regarding this alleged offense” there was no probable cause for the count, which reads “criminal damage by recklessly causing the impairment of the functioning of any utility.”
Atranscript of the grand jury proceedingsshows the only testimony was that of officer Seth Boothe of the Arizona Dept. of Public Safety (DPS) in the presentation to jurors by deputy county attorney Tom Bennett. According to Boothe, there was almost 1500 pounds of marijuana bundled for “wholesale transportation” inside the truck and “throughout the desert” around the vehicle which rolled over at milepost 40 on State Route 181 near Sunizona. Coronado was the only occupant found at the scene.
Boothe testified that Coronado was airlifted to a Tucson hospital for medical treatment where he told investigators he was a passenger in the truck driven by a man named Juan. The vehicle had been reported stolen out of Marana. Boothe concluded his testimony without any discussion about damage to a utility. The grand jury then unanimously indicted Coronado on the four counts offered for consideration by Bennett at the beginning of the proceedings.
Bennett did not object to the recent defense motion about the criminal damage count and on December 2 judge Wallace Hoggatt ordered the count dismissed. The ruling has no impact on the three remaining charges. Coronado’s next court hearing is scheduled for January 6, 2017.
The September indictment is the second attempt by the Cochise CountyAttorney’s office to prosecute Coronado for the 2009 rollover. On January 10, 2010 a criminal complaint was filed against Coronado in the Willcox Justice Court. However, efforts to serve Coronado with a summons at the Agua Prieta (Sonora, Mexico) address on his driver’s license were unsuccessful. Ten days later judge Trevor Ward issued a felony arrest warrant.
Inmate’s letter from Mississippi prison triggers renewed prosecution
The 2010 criminal charges and arrest warrant sat dormant until August 2016 when the Willcox court received a letter from Coronado, who was serving a five year sentence at a prison in Mississippi for a 2013 federal drug charge. Coronado asked for the 2010 charges to be dismissed, or that he be allowed to plead guilty and serve the sentence concurrent with his federal prison sentence. His letter, according to a filing by Bennett, is how the county attorney’s office learned of Coronado’s whereabouts.
Court records obtained from the Willcox Justice Court show that in June 2013 the U.S. Probation Office requested information about the 2010 charges. However, there is no indication that the court notified the county attorney’s office of the inquiry or that anyone in Cochise County took steps at the time to locate Coronado, who was in custody of the U.S. Marshal’s Office in Tucson.
Bennett opposed Coronado’spro semotion to dismiss the case and on September 15 he presented the case to a county grand jury which handed down the indictment on the same four counts as the 2010 complaint. The Willcox case was then dismissed due to the supervening indictment and transferred to Superior Court. Judge Conlogue granted Bennett aWrit of Habeas Corpuswhich ordered the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office to take custody of Coronado from federal prison officials.
Coronado has been serving his latest federal prison sentence at the Corrections Corporation of America-operated Adams County Correctional Center in Natchez, Mississippi.
He was convicted of conspiracy to possess marijuana after illegally entering the U.S. in a truck west of Douglas on February 15, 2013. A high speed chase ensured along U.S. Route 191 after which U.S. Border Patrol agents arrested Coronado and a passenger. A search of the truck revealed 276 packages of marijuana with weight totaling more than a ton.
A few months later Coronado (as Coronado-Lucero) accepted a plea deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, admitting he was promised $20,000 if he transported the drugs to Tucson. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons his federal sentence is scheduled to end November 2017. After his release, Coronado will be under the supervision of the U.S. Probation Office for four years, unless he is deported yet again by ICE or convicted on the renewed charges and imprisoned in Arizona.
Contact reporter Terri Jo Neff at 520-508-3660 and firstname.lastname@example.org
EDITOR’S NOTE: Judge Sol Wachtler believed grand juries “operate more often as the prosecutor’s pawn than the citizen’s shield.” Author Tom Wolfe included the judge’s words about grand juries and ham sandwiches in his 1987 novelThe Bonfire of the Vanities:
“But mainly you used the grand jury to indict people,” Wolfe wrote, “and in the famous phrase of Sol Wachtler, chief judge of the [NY] State Court of Appeals, a grand jury would ‘indict a ham sandwich,’ if that’s what you wanted.”