Murky Waters

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One reason Rico did escape jail or prison after her negligent homicide conviction was the favorable report of the Adult Probation Office.

Probation officer Paul Anderson noted that Rico only had a minor brush with the law -- driving without a license -- before Valeria's death, and that he could find no evidence of prior substance-abuse problems.

"It is unlikely [she] acted with malice, or that the death of Valeria Romero was anything but an accident," Anderson wrote. "[Rico] does not appear to pose a threat to the community, and this writer believes that the interests of the victim, community, [her] remaining children and [Rico herself] would be best served if [she] were placed on probation."

Judge Ballinger adopted all of Anderson's recommendations -- including ordering parenting classes and community-service training. It seemed Rico would stand a good chance of getting her two surviving children returned to her, as early as next spring. The pair have been in foster care since their mother's arrest, though authorities had allowed her regular supervised visits.

But Immigration and Naturalization Service officials detained Rico soon after she was sentenced. Rico, who has been living in the States illegally since moving here from Mexico as a young girl, has been shipped to Eloy to await disposition of her case. If she is deported, what will happen to her two children is uncertain.

Rico had spoken in the days before she was sentenced of getting back her two surviving children and starting a new life, with her new boyfriend.

"I am Catholic and I pray every day," she said. "I pray for my angel [Valeria], and I pray for my other kids, too. I pray for myself to be there for my kids when I get them back, and to be fast, because you don't know what's going to happen. I know that people hate me, but I'm not a bad person."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin