Des Moines, Iowa -- A Guatemalan man who apparently entered the U.S. illegally after being deported twice has been charged with killing an Iowa woman and her two children. Marvin Oswaldo Escobar-Orellana, 31, made an initial court appearance Thursday in Des Moines, where the judge set his bond at $3 million cash and scheduled his next hearing for July 29. He is charged with three counts of first-degree murder and hasn't entered a plea.
Escobar-Orellana was arrested Tuesday night in the fatal shootings of 29-year-old Rossibeth Flores-Rodriguez and her two children, 11-year-old Grecia Daniela Alvarado-Flores and 5-year-old Ever Jose Mejia-Flores.
A police spokesman said investigators have been told that Flores-Rodriguez had come to Iowa to work with Escobar-Orellana, a self-employed roofer. The bodies of the three were found at the home that they shared with Escobar-Orellana, police Sgt. Paul Parizek said Thursday. Escobar-Orellana's wife and his own children also lived in the home, but were not at the home at the time of the killings, Parizek said.
Police have also been told that Flores-Rodriguez met the suspect in her home country of Honduras.
Parizek said he has no information on the slain family's immigration status. A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman said Thursday that the agency doesn't release such information about victims of violent crimes.
Escobar-Orellana called 911 after the shootings, authorities said. In a criminal complaint, police say that according to an unidentified witness, Escobar-Orellana shot Flores-Rodriguez during an argument and then went inside the family's condo and shot the children, the Des Moines Register reported.
Escobar-Orellana gave investigators a different version of events. He said Flores-Rodriguez killed the children and that he shot her in self-defense, police say in the complaint.
During his hearing, Escobar-Orellana asked the Polk County Associate Judge Becky Goettsch through a Spanish-language interpreter why he was charged with all three killings, when he only killed one person -- and that in self-defense. But police say that ballistic evidence supports the witness' account of what happened.
Goettsch assigned the public defender's office to represent Escobar-Orellana, but the office hadn't assigned anyone to the case by midday Thursday, and court records didn't list an attorney for him.
According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Escobar-Orellana gave police a false name when they arrested him: Marvin Esquivel-Lopez.
Escobar-Orellana was deported in 2010 and again in 2011, said ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer. In 2010, Escobar-Orellana was convicted of illegal entry into the U.S.
His 2011 deportation stemmed from illegal entry to the U.S. near Laredo, Texas, court records said. He was sentenced to 15 days confinement and ordered not to return to the country illegally.
ICE has filed an immigration detainer and administrative arrest warrant with the Polk County Jail, Neudauer said. An immigrant who re-enters the country without authorization after having been previously deported can be charged with a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Amid a heated political debate over immigration across the country, at least two Republicans were quick to point at the arrest as evidence of weak border enforcement.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security seeking records of Escobar-Orellana's full immigration history.
"The ugly act of violence that claimed the lives of a mother and her two children in Des Moines this week is shocking and heartbreaking. What's worse, it appears that laws in place to protect against such violence failed this young family," Grassley said. "It is crucial we understand how someone who had been twice deported from this country was able to re-enter for at least a third time and commit such an act of senseless violence. This case demonstrates yet again the need for Congress to take action to more effectively secure our border and keep dangerous criminals from so easily entering the United States."
Rep. Steve King, a staunchly conservative House member from Iowa who was sanctioned earlier this year by his congressional colleagues for, also cited the case.
"There are thousands of graves across this countryside that are there because we didn't enforce immigration law," King told CBS affiliate KCCI TV on Thursday. "They would be alive today if we didn't have sanctuary policies and if we enforced immigration laws evenly and steadily across the board."
The Des Moines Public Schools issued a statement following news of the deaths, saying Grecia had just completed fifth grade at Moulton Elementary School and Ever would have begun kindergarten there this fall.
School officials' "hearts are heavy" over the deaths, the release said.
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