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Immigrant who says family killed faces sentencing

Published on -11/13/2012, 7:16 AM

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WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- An immigrant who claims her family was killed in Mexico over a marijuana case filed in federal court in Kansas has pleaded for leniency.

Norma Quintana pleaded guilty in August for failing to appear at her 2010 federal trial on a charge of possession with intent to distribute 160 pounds of marijuana. Quintana's defense attorney has asked U.S. District Judge Monti Belot to sentence his client Tuesday to time served.

Prosecutors have agreed to drop the drug charge at the sentencing hearing in exchange for her guilty plea on the fleeing charge. The Justice Department also recommended, as part of that agreement, a proposed sentence of time served.

Quintana and her husband, Hector Hernandez-Valdez, were initially charged in state court in Pratt County, but those charges were inexplicably dropped after federal prosecutors filed their own drug charges against the couple in February 2010. Hernandez-Valdez also was charged with aggravated illegal re-entry to the United States.

Quintana, who is a legal U.S. resident, fled to Mexico after being released on a personal recognizance bond.

A court filing from Friday says that Hernandez-Valdez, Quintana's son and Quintana's brother were killed in Mexico while her U.S. criminal case was pending, but the document gave no other details. Attorney Charles O'Hara argued in the filing that Quintana believes her family's killings are related to the marijuana case filed against her and her husband.

Quintana contends in court documents that she does not know if a sister and another brother who were abducted from their homes in Mexico are still alive.

"There is a lot of violence in that people don't realize in Wichita associated with some of these cases, and a lot of times the violence is associated with the people charged," O'Hara said Monday in a phone interview, declining to discuss the case further.

The U.S. attorney's office in Kansas has information that Quintana's husband and son were gunned down in Mexico, but has no information about whether those killings were related to the criminal case in Kansas, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Anderson. Prosecutors have no specific information about the dead brother or the other siblings who were allegedly abducted from their homes.

Defense filings contend Quintana went to Mexico to bury her family while the drug case was pending in Wichita, but gave no reason for her not showing up in court as scheduled. The defense also said that Quintana contacted her daughter, who lives in New Mexico, and returned the United States with the intent to surrender on the pending marijuana case.

Quintana was arrested in April, and has been held in custody since then as a flight risk.

Hernandez-Valdez never appeared in federal court, and the charges against him were dismissed in July 2012.

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