SANTA CRUZ — The extradition of suspected criminals from Mexico made headlines in 2019 for two separate murder cases that are years old.
In June, Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Jay Bieber, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart, Inspector Henry Montes, Santa Cruz County District Attorney Jeff Rosell and Assistant District Attorney Celia Rowland announced the arrest and extradition of Miguel Loza.
Loza, who lived in Santa Cruz County as a transient, is accused of raping and stabbing 17-year-old Jessica Sheridan on Feb. 10, 2003, in an abandoned Soquel preschool. The Sentinel reported that Loza was believed to have fled to Mexico. He was considered armed and dangerous.
There are few details about how authorities detained Loza, 43, who faces 12 felonies including murder, torture, sodomy, false imprisonment and assault to commit rape. His case was filed in February 2003. His next court day is scheduled for April 30 before Judge Timothy Volkmann.
“Mexico is no longer a safe haven the way it was in the old days,” Rosell said during a June press conference.
Sheridan was Loza’s girlfriend, the Sentinel has reported. He is accused of stabbing and raping her, and raping her 17-year-old friend. Sheridan died three weeks later from complications suffered during the attack.
By August 2003, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein joined the quest to bring Sheridan’s suspected assailant from a Mexican jail to this country. The District Attorney’s Office told the Sentinel that Mexican authorities, at that time, did not typically extradite defendants facing the potential for life imprisonment.
Bieber said federal authorities became involved in the case in 2014 and developed leads to Loza’s location by 2017. The “most promising leads” came a year later, when Loza was arrested by Interpol, special operations police operating in Mexico.
A reward was offered for his arrest and that helped, Rosell said.
“Interpol grabbed him. He was resistant,” Montes said of Loza’s arrest in an area known as Tepito, a notoriously violent part of Mexico City. Loza initially denied he was the same person sought. That happened on Oct. 23, 2018.
Seven months passed before Loza, who is a Mexican citizen, was brought to face proceedings in the U.S.
In Santa Cruz County, Loza was known to authorities. He had 20 prior arrests, ranging from assault to fighting, the Sentinel reported.
Ivan Tapia Ramirez
The man suspected of killing 16-year-old Tyler Tenorio was also extradited from Mexico in 2019.
More American fugitives are being caught south of the border. Santa Cruz County has been host to high-profile cases of gang-driven violence, escapes to Mexico and years-long investigations.
Authorities said Ramirez, who has a variety of aliases, was directly involved in killing Tenorio in 2009.
Ramirez told Mexican and U.S. authorities he resisted arrest after mistaking investigators as members of a drug cartel, District Attorney Jeff Rosell said. The announcement: Santa Cruz Police, the U.S. Marshals, FBI, Interpol and Mexican federal police found one of two remaining suspected killers in Durango, Mexico in the fistfight that became deadly.
Mexican authorities arrested Ramirez for extradition to the U.S.
The case started 10 years ago with an escalating fight between two groups about 10 p.m. Oct. 16, 2009, outside the 7-Eleven at Chestnut and Laurel streets. Tenorio was hanging out with friends. One of his friends yelled “Westside!” from his car at two men in the area. The friend stepped from the car to confront the men. Tenorio, two others and a group from a nearby apartment complex stepped into a fistfight that “turned into murder,” Assistant District Attorney Greg Peinado has said.
Tyler tripped and was stabbed 17 times. He was left for dead, Deputy Chief Dan Flippo has said.
Three people were arrested soon after the homicide, but Ramirez and Paulo Luna remained at large. Luna is still sought by authorities.
Deputy Police Chief Rick Martinez has said gang activity appeared to be rising in Santa Cruz in 2009. He said the problem was illuminated by the fact that a high school student was killed.
It isn’t clear why Ramirez, now charged with first-degree murder and participation in a criminal gang, ended up settling in Durango, Mexico. He worked for Western Union but recently was laid off, authorities said. He had a partner and at least two children there. He was found by collaboration among cold-case investigators and other teams.
The defendant’s parents and a sibling live in Santa Cruz, said Henry Montes, an inspector at the District Attorney’s Office. Montes escorted the accused into the police department this week.
Fleeing a U.S. jurisdiction to avoid prosecution is a federal crime, said Bertram Fairries, an FBI special agent in charge in San Francisco.
“Tyler was only a young man who on a Friday night at a 7-Eleven was hanging out with friends,” Fairries said. “He met a terrible end by those who chose to inflict violence on our communities. This was the paramount reason why we thought this case was so important.”
The agent issued a warning for criminals on the lam: “We will pursue you. We will use every tool in our war chest,” Fairries said. “Please know that time, miles or continents will not keep us from pursuing you.”
Ramirez is the fourth defendant charged in connection with Tyler’s death.
Walter Escalante pleaded no contest in 2012 for voluntary manslaughter, assault with a deadly weapon and participation in a criminal street gang.
Pasqual Reyes was sentenced in 2012 to 31 years in prison in exchange for voluntary manslaughter, assault with a deadly weapon, assault, battery and gang participation.
Charges against Daniel Onesto have been dismissed.
Only Paulo Luna remains at large. Rosell said he is a key suspect.
Rosell has said Mexico should no longer be considered a “safe haven” for fugitives.
There are other murder suspects on the lam in Mexico authorities have linked with crimes in Santa Cruz County, Rosell said. Since 2013, at least six fugitives have been returned for prosecution in Santa Cruz.
Local fugitives are being tracked and arrested in Mexico in increasing numbers. Rosell attributed the trend to heightened collaboration among local, U.S. and Mexican authorities.
Ramirez’s next court appearance in Santa Cruz County Superior Court is scheduled for late January.