Man accused of killing five people in Kansas and Missouri was in U.S. illegally

A Mexican man accused of killing five people in the Midwest this week was a convicted felon living in the U.S. illegally, and he had not been deported despite being arrested at least twice in recent years, federal officials said.

Pablo Antonio Serrano-Vitorino, 40, of Kansas City, Kan., was captured in rural eastern Missouri early Wednesday morning after going missing from Kansas on Monday and then sparking a 17-hour manhunt in Missouri on Tuesday once his truck was spotted along an interstate.

Officials, who had previously warned Serrano-Vitorino might be armed with an AK-47, said he was found with a rifle, but wouldn't say what kind.

Serrano-Vitorino faces five counts of murder and other charges on suspicion of killing four men on Monday night in Kansas City, Kan., and then going on the run and killing another man almost 200 miles to the east in New Florence, Mo. Officials have not given a motive.

The case could have political implications, given Serrano-Vitorino's immigration status and his criminal history, which includes a felony conviction in Los Angeles County from 2003. Serrano-Vitorino was deported to Mexico in 2004 but illegally returned to the U.S. sometime later, officials said.

Missouri's primary presidential election is next week, and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and other immigration critics have cited the death of Kathryn Steinle -- who was shot in San Francisco in July by a felon from Mexico living in the U.S. illegally -- to call for harsher measures to control illegal immigration.

Around 11 p.m. Monday, Kansas City police responded to a house in "somewhat of a rural" area, where they discovered the victims, Wyandotte County Dist. Atty. Jerome Gorman said in a televised news conference Wednesday.

Officers found two people on a couch who had been shot and killed, Gorman said. A third victim was still alive when police arrived, but soon died on the porch. A fourth victim was found outside the house and died after being taken to the hospital. Officials have identified the victims as Michael Capps, Jeremy Waters, Clint Harter and Austin Harter.

Officials "fairly quickly" zeroed in on Serrano-Vitorino as a suspect, Gorman said, and Missouri State Highway Patrol officials said police found his 2002 Dodge pickup at 7:02 a.m. Wednesday, abandoned along Interstate 70 about 200 miles to the east in Montgomery County, Mo. 

"We don't know if we had mechanical problems, or ran out of fuel, or any of that," Sgt. Scott White, a Highway Patrol spokesman, said at a televised news conference.

Less than 20 minutes later, at 7:20 a.m., sheriff's officials got a phone call about a shooting at the home of Randy J. Nordman, 49, along the interstate, and officials found Nordman's body when they arrived, the Highway Patrol said in a statement. Serrano-Vitorino was accused of killing Nordman.

Serrano-Vitorino later approached another person in the area with a gun, but that person escaped and called police, the Highway Patrol said.

Two troopers spotted Serrano-Vitorino laying face-down in a ditch next to the interstate and arrested him without incident, the Highway Patrol said.

"He was wet. All his clothes were wet -- socks were wet, shoes," White said.

NEWSLETTER: Get the day's top headlines from Times Editor Davan Maharaj >>

Serrano-Vitorino was being held without bond at a Montgomery County jail on Wednesday and was charged in Missouri with one count each of first-degree murder, armed criminal action and first-degree burglary. He is also charged with four counts of first-degree murder in Kansas.

Gorman, the Wyandotte County district attorney, said he didn't know whether Serrano-Vitorino would be tried in Missouri or Kansas first, though he said he would "love" to try him in Kansas first. Both states have the option of death sentences for capital murder.

"He's killed four persons in my community ... I'm responsible for the safety of those individuals," Gorman said. But, he added of the Missouri prosecutors, "Until they either resolve their case or willingly turn him over to us, there's not much we can do in getting [him]."

Serrano-Vitorino had been living in the U.S. despite being a felon who had several contacts with police in Kansas in recent years, according to federal immigration officials.

Serrano-Vitorino was ordered deported from the U.S. in absentia 2002, and on March 27, 2003, he was convicted in Los Angeles County Superior Court of making a felony terrorist threat, according to federal immigration officials. Serrano-Vitorino was sentenced to two years in prison.

He was deported to Mexico in 2004, and it's not clear when he returned to the U.S., immigration officials said in a statement.

On Nov. 21, 2014, Serrano-Vitorino was convicted of driving under the influence in Coffee County, Kan., but officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the agency was not notified about his case.

On June 15, 2015, police in Kansas City, Kan., arrested Serrano-Vitorino on suspicion of domestic assault. ICE was alerted but he was processed and released before the agency could investigate, immigration officials said.

Then, on Sept. 14, 2015, ICE received notification that Serrano-Vitorino was fingerprinted at Overland Park Municipal Court for receiving a citation for driving without a license in the Kansas City suburb.

After receiving the hit, immigration officials issued a detainer for Serrano-Vitorino, which would set the deportation process in motion.

Issuing the detainer was a procedural mistake, because detainers are only for suspects who are in custody, and Serrano-Vitorino was apparently never ordered to jail for the minor traffic charge. Because he wasn't in custody, immigration officials said, further action to deport him couldn't be taken.

"Although the notification prompted ICE to issue a detainer to the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, Serrano-Vitorino was at court for a municipal fine and was never remanded to the sheriff’s office custody," the agency said in a statement. "Therefore, neither ICE nor the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office could take action on that detainer.”

Further details about Serrano-Vitorino's charges and infractions and their outcomes was not immediately available.

ICE placed a new detainer on Serrano-Vitorino on Wednesday to claim custody of him when his criminal cases are resolved.

"ICE will continue to work with local entities and take steps to once again remove him from the country once the criminal case is completed," the agency said in a statement.

Follow @MattDPearce for national news

See more of our top stories on Facebook >>

ALSO

Immigration makes up central topic of Clinton, Sanders debate

Missouri GOP defeats 39-hour filibuster to pass bill criticized as anti-gay

Towns run by a polygamist sect discriminated against nonbelievers, jury finds

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
60°