NAPLES — Every fugitive wants to be the one that got away.
When it's across international lines, like the May arrest of Luis Gonzalez in Mexico on a 2008 manslaughter charge in a Lee County case, finding the suspect is only the beginning.
The ensuing diplomatic and legal wrangling can wrap a case in bureaucratic red tape, and there is no guarantee the suspect will see a U.S. courtroom. In international law, extradition by a foreign country of one of its citizens is a courtesy, not an obligation.
Selwyn Smith, a Bahamian national wanted in the 1996 shooting death of a man in Collier County, fled to the Caribbean island nation. There is little chance he will ever square off with a Collier judge. His country refused to turn him over.
"We sent stuff through the (U.S.) State Department to the Bahamian government," said Capt. Chris Roberts of the Collier County Sheriff's Office. "It was a strong case."
In conjunction with the State Attorney's Office, law enforcement agencies issue an arrest warrant and an unlawful flight warrant and submit the information to the U.S. State Department. If a fugitive is located abroad, as Smith and Gonzalez were, a provisional arrest can be made by local law enforcement at the request of U.S. authorities.
Gonzalez, who is accused of running over 25-year-old Tia Poklemba and leaving her for dead on a road in San Carlos Park, was caught near Mexico City in late May following a tip, according to the Lee County Sheriff's Office.
The U.S. maintains bilateral extradition treaties with about 100 countries.
Europe: Exceptions include, but are not limited to, Croatia, the Russian Federation and Vatican City.
Africa: Tanzania, South Africa and Malawi are three examples of bilateral treaty countries. Many African countries don’t have treaties, including the Central African Republic, Botswana and Cameroon.
Central Asia: Has a dearth of bilateral extradition treaties. Countries including Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan haven’t signed off.
The Middle East: Jordan, Egypt and Israel have treaties, for example, while Yemen, Syrian and Lebanon don’t.
Latin America: Maintains extradition treaties.
Source: Congressional Research Service, 2010, “Extradition To and From the United States: Overview of the Law and Recent Treaties.”
His extradition now hinges on arguments made by the Southwest Florida State Attorney's Office in documentation provided to federal officials.
The case is headed to a Mexican court, where a judge decides on extradition. The U.S. maintains bilateral treaties with about 100 countries that define which offenses are considered extraditable.
Because the ruling to extradite is based on the arguments made in the written request alone and the American prosecutor doesn't appear before the foreign court, the prosecutor's affidavit "must be as persuasive as possible," according to the U.S. Department of Justice's United States Attorneys' Manual. Extraditions largely deal with major crimes and crimes of a violent nature.
There remains a possibility that despite his arrest, Gonzalez — who faces first-degree felony charges of leaving the scene of a fatal crash and manslaughter with a weapon — may not face a Lee County judge.
Larry King, spokesman for the Lee County Sheriff's Office, acknowledged that the extradition process isn't a sure thing yet in the Gonzalez case.
"It should be noted we know of no case involving our agency where the individual was not successfully returned to Lee County," King added.
In the past, the State Attorney's Office has reduced charges to ensure extradition.
Jose Raul Plasencia was arrested in Mexico in December 1997, suspected of killing his girlfriend, Michaelene Blastic, 38, in February 1996. Her body was found a month later inside a refrigerator in her Fort Myers home.
It took local authorities a year and a half to secure his extradition, and he was returned to Lee County in July 1999, Assistant State Attorney Randall McGruther said in a Daily News report at the time.
Though extradition cases originate with local law enforcement investigations, the arrest of fugitives generally is handled by local authorities where the suspect is and the return to this country is in the hands of U.S. marshals.
Because of the murder charge, Plasencia could have faced the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted.
But in the agreement reached between the United States and Mexico, those sentences were taken off the table. Mexico doesn't have the death penalty and doesn't extradite in cases where that sentence is a possibility. Life sentences were once a barrier to extradition also, but that has since changed.
Plasencia ultimately was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Authorities believe the suspect in Collier County's first homicide of 2012, the March death of 24-year-old Juan Flores Monroy in Immokalee, also fled to Mexico.
Sheriff's offices for Collier and Lee counties couldn't provide exact figures on how many fugitives are confirmed or suspected to be abroad.
It's "not a cold case, just a matter of finding them," Roberts said of how the cases are classified.
Several international fugitives from Southwest Florida, like Plasencia and Gonzalez, have made it onto America's Most Wanted and other fugitive justice shows, encouraging tips to local law enforcement.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement doesn't track how many of the approximately 287,000 warrants from around the state as of April are for suspects who have fled the country.
"When there is a warrant, it's not where you are, but who you are," explained Keith Kameg, an FDLE spokesman and former police officer.
For that reason, Collier investigators flagged Bahamian national Smith in every database possible, Roberts said."If he goes outside the Bahamas or lands in the U.S., immigration will wind up detaining him and he'll be brought back eventually," Roberts said.
Another way for fugitives to get caught is when they become criminals in the country to which they fled.
Lee County law enforcement was looking for David Bieber, but it was English police officers who found him.
He had shot to death a police office in England in April 2003 but eluded police yet again. Seven months later, Bieber was tracked down. He had dyed his hair and had a loaded gun, according to media reports from the United Kingdom.
If Bieber is ever set for release from an English prison, he would face extradition to the U.S. to Lee County on a murder charge in the 1995 death of bodybuilder Markus Mueller and the attempted murder of Bieber's former girlfriend.
Because he's serving three consecutive life sentences for the officer's murder, Bieber's extradition is out of Lee law enforcement and the State Attorney's hands.
But if the call comes that Gonzalez is released by Mexico into U.S. custody and federal agents decide to include Lee deputies in his return, the agency's spokesman said the Sheriff's Office will be more than happy to send someone to Mexico.
"If we need to go pick him up," King said, "we'll go pick him up."