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Immigrant law at center of homicide case

Publicity about law will keep illegal immigrants accused in man’s killing from getting fair trial, they say.

WILKES-BARRE – Hazleton’s controversial illegal immigration law has ignited another legal debate.

This time, though, it’s in a homicide case.

Attorneys for two illegal Hispanic immigrants accused of killing a man outside his home say their clients can’t get a fair trial in Luzerne County because of the publicity over the new law.

The attorneys for Joan Romero and Pedro Cabrera say numerous media outlets have carried “highly prejudicial coverage” of the law, “particularly the public comments of Hazleton City Mayor Louis J. Barletta in his speeches and remarks” to city council and the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

The attorneys said Barletta has repeatedly referred to the arrests of Cabrera and Romero as a “contributing basis” for the law.

The publicity has “severely prejudiced potential” jurors, the attorneys say.

Because of that, the attorneys want the upcoming homicide trials of Cabrera and Romero moved out of Luzerne County or heard by an outside jury. The move, they said, should also be beyond a neighboring county.

Court of Common Pleas Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr. will decide.

Barletta would not comment on the motion or the homicide case but said the murder of Derek Kichline, whom Romero and Cabrera are accused of killing, “was one of many violent crimes that spurred my administration to act.”

The request to move the trial was one of several motions made Wednesday by attorneys Cheryl Sobeski-Reedy and William Ruzzo, who are defending Cabrera, and attorneys Joseph Cosgrove and Michael Senape, who are defending Romero.

The two immigrants were charged with shooting Kichline once in the head outside his East Chestnut Street home in May.

It was one of a string of incidents that Barletta said made him realize he had to do something with the growing illegal immigration problem. In a phone interview Wednesday, Barletta mentioned that the same day Romero and Cabrera allegedly killed Kichline, a 14-year-old illegal immigrant fired a handgun at a crowded school playground in the city.

Barletta and city council have since enacted the Illegal Immigration Relief Act.

The law establishes English as the city’s official language, imposes severe penalties on landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and suspends the licenses of businesses that employ them.

The law has heightened tensions between the city and its heavy Hispanic population.

Latino leaders say the law is discriminatory.

But supporters, such as Barletta, said it was a long overdue response to illegal immigration.

The law has already sparked a lawsuit over its constitutionality.

Times Leader staff writer John Davidson contributed to this report.

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