Immigration Status Of Vanessa Marcotte’s Alleged Killer Still Cloudy

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LEOMINSTER — What is crystal-clear is that Vanessa Marcotte’s alleged killer was held on $10 million bail following his not guilty plea Tuesday morning on charges that include aggravated assault, aggravated assault and battery, and assault with intent to rape.  

What is still cloudy, however, is Angel Colon-Ortiz’s immigration status. According to his defense attorney, Edward Ryan Jr., Colon-Ortiz arrived in Worcester from Puerto Rico in May 2016 and “within two weeks he was fully employed.”

Ryan was addressing a media scrum outside Leominster District Court following Colon-Ortiz’s arraignment. Marcotte, a Boston University graduate who was working at Google’s New York City office at the time of her death, was discovered beaten and partially naked when authorities discovered her body steps away from Brooks Station Road in the Worcester County town of Princeton on the night of August 7, 2016. Police reports say she had gone jogging that afternoon, having left from her mother’s home about a mile from where her body was discovered. When she failed to return home, Marcotte’s mother called police.

Initial reports released following Marcotte’s killing advised the public that the suspect was likely a Hispanic man driving a dark-colored sport utility vehicle. Marcotte’s alleged killer remained free until Friday, when he was arrested after a DNA test found a match. Colon-Ortiz apparently volunteered his own DNA after a state trooper spotted a man driving an SUV in Worcester who fit the profile, and quickly jotted down the license plate number on his hand.

The officer, identified as State Trooper Robert Parr, later left his business card with Colon-Ortiz’s wife at the family’s Worcester address. When Colon-Ortiz failed to contact him, Parr apparently stopped at his house. Colon-Ortiz reportedly agreed to submit a DNA sample via a cheek swab — and his sample apparently matched DNA evidence discovered underneath Marcotte’s fingernails, according to police.

On Saturday, Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early originally referred to the suspect as “Angelo Colon-Ortiz” during a 2 p.m. press conference. Early refused to release Colon-Ortiz’s mugshot and declined to comment on his immigration status.

On Tuesday, Ryan told reporters Colon-Ortiz had been working as a Fed-Ex delivery driver and confirmed that Colon-Ortiz speaks only Spanish. Ryan, according to a report of the courtroom proceedings, told Judge Mark Noonan that Colon-Ortiz has no aliases, no Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers filed against him, and no previous criminal record.

Prosecutors told the court that while Colon-Ortiz has not yet been charged with Marcotte’s murder, he can expect to face a murder charge after officials complete his indictment.

Ryan has stressed that Colon-Ortiz was born in Puerto Rico, which would mean he is a U.S. citizen. Federal authorities, however, have yet to confirm whether Ryan’s assertion is accurate.

Ryan later told reporters that Colon-Ortiz may have voluntarily agreed to a DNA swab because of his inability to understand the English language.

“We’ll look at the manner in which samples were taken,” Ryan noted. “We’ll look at everything from start to finish.”

Like Early, Ryan, however, referenced his client as “Angelo,” further adding to the confusion:

“I’m confidant that the man in court is Angelo Colon-Ortiz, born in Puerto Rico, and married with three children,” Ryan said.

According to a Boston Herald report from Sunday, authorities are still working to determine Colon-Ortiz’s immigration status. State Police spokesman David Procopio told the newspaper that the Department of Homeland Security “has no file” on Colon-Ortiz.

“To this point, we have no information that suggests he is in the country illegally,” Procopio added. “The investigation into that question is not absolutely completed, but at this point the information we have indicates that is his name, and, to this point, there is no indication of any immigration violation.”

Worcester, which boasts sanctuary city policies that prevent police from fingerprinting arrestees and forwarding their information to ICE, refuses to declare itself officially as a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants. The police department’s booking procedures, posted to the city’s website, indicate authorities do not distinguish between arrestees entering the United States legally and those entering illegally.

A formal resolution request made by Councilor-at-Large Michael Gaffney in January that sought official clarification on the issue was later defeated in a 9-2 vote, with Mayor Joe Petty accusing Gaffney of bigotry.

Early, meanwhile, has a history of refusing to release to the public data on criminal records. Last November, Attorney General Maura Healey sued Early and two other district attorneys for failing to comply with various public records requests. 

Colon-Ortiz is scheduled to return to court on May 24 for a pretrial discovery hearing.