MIAMI – Ecuador's government demanded on Monday the return of a man on Florida's death row for killing four people and said he should have never been taken from the South American country, calling it a "kidnapping."
Ecuadorean officials have decried the treatment of former businessman and dual U.S. and Ecuador citizen Nelson Serrano Saenz, claiming he was beaten and secretly held in a dog kennel. The officials sent a letter to the U.S. State Department last month but said they haven't yet received a response.
"The issue is not his guilt or innocence," said Deputy Ecuadorean Interior Minister Franco Sanchez. "This is called a kidnapping, not an arrest."
Ecuador has no death penalty and will not extradite fugitives who face the punishment in other countries. U.S. authorities maintained Serrano's status as a U.S. citizen allowed them to bring him back.
Serrano, 70, was convicted of killing four people in a Polk County factory in 1997 over a business relationship gone sour. He was living in Ecuador when he was arrested in 2002.
Ecuador maintains Florida officials bribed police there to help capture Serrano, and that he was kept overnight at the Quito airport in a dog kennel to avoid detection. They also say he was beaten so badly a flight attendant tried to stop him from boarding the plane until an assistant state attorney and a law enforcement agent from Florida intervened.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent Tommy Ray, who brought Serrano back to Florida, called the allegations absurd.
"There was no bribe," he told The Associated Press on Monday. Ray said he and others gave Ecuadorean police about $300 to reimburse them for gas, meals and documentation. He also said Serrano was injured only when he tried to flee at the last minute and he was kept overnight in an office, not a dog kennel.
The human rights arm of the Organization of American States, to which both countries belong, concluded the Ecuadorean government illegally detained and deported Serrano. The commission has since recommended the case to the Inter-American Human Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica.
Ecuador plans to present its letter to the Florida Supreme Court, where Serrano's appeal will likely be heard later this year. The government also has hired Miami-based immigration attorney Marcia Silvers to replace Serrano's court-appointed lawyer.
Sanchez said it has taken the Ecuadorean government so long to press for Serrano's release because it was not until a new administration took over the country two years ago that cases like Serrano's were reviewed. He said his government is still investigating the actions of several police and customs officials involved in the case. Ecuador also has enacted new regulations to clarify its deportation procedures.