Nearly seven years ago, Air Force Reserve Maj. Karl Hoerig was allegedly gunned down in his Ohio home by his wife in what quickly went from an open-and-shut case to an international affair.
Hoerig was a highly decorated war veteran who had flown more than 200 combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan when he met Brazilian-born Claudia Sobral online in 2005. The two hit it off and married quickly with a ceremony in Las Vegas and settled in the small town of Newton Falls, in northeastern Ohio. But things had soured by 2007, after Hoerig noticed money missing from their bank account, according to family members.
“He was special and we just can’t forget him.”
- Fran Hoerig, mother of murdered former Air Force pilot
“I said, 'Where is your money possibly going'?" recalled Paul Hoerig, the dead man's brother. "He said, 'I have no idea,' and that 'she was the one who handled the money.'”
A few weeks after their conversation, Hoerig, who had already been divorced and was working as a pilot for Southwest Airlines, told his wife he wanted out of the marriage, according to his brother.
But Trumbull County prosecutors say Sobral had other plans. Court documents allege she bought a gun and took shooting lessons while Karl was traveling for work. Then, on March 12, 2007, she shot her 43-year-old husband three times at close range in the head in the home they shared and tossed a tarp over his body, according to prosecutors.
When Hoerig's parents, Fran and Ed Hoerig, discovered the body three days later, their daughter-in-law was nowhere to be found. Prosecutors charge she emptied the couple's bank account of $10,000 and then used her husband’s Southwest airlines pass to fly to LaGuardia Airport in New York. She then drove to nearby JFK airport and took a one-way flight to Brazil.
Once in her homeland, Sobral, who documents show had renounced her Brazilian citizenship in 1999, was able to avoid the reach of Ohio prosecutors.
Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins has sent dozens of letters to both the U.S. and Brazilian governments in an effort to have Sobral brought back to Ohio to face the charge of aggravated murder. Brazil's constitution prohibits the extradition of Brazilian nationals, and the South American nation previously insisted that Sobral's decision to become a U.S. citizen was not enough to put her under American jurisdiction.
“I have no control," Watkins told FoxNews.com. "The state of Ohio and Trumbull county authorities have done everything we possibly could do to get this case moving forward under the law. It’s the U.S. Government.”
The Hoerig's congressman, Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, has taken up the cause by introducing legislation to stop foreign aid to Brazil until Sobral is extradited. In June of this year, he also tried unsuccessfully to pass an amendment to the Homeland Security bill that would stop the State Department from issuing visas for Brazilian nationals.
“In the U.S., we should be concerned because if you can go to Brazil and have safe harbor there, then what prevents a terrorist from committing an attack in the United States and going back to Brazil to have a safe haven?” Ryan said.
In July, Brazilian officials reversed course and revoked Sobral's citizenship for “freely” becoming a U.S. citizen. Fran Hoerig said she learned of the potential breakthrough not from U.S. officials, but by scouring the Internet, which she took as a discomforting sign that her own government is not on the case.
“I can’t believe that they aren’t on top of this. I don’t know if they don’t know what’s happening or if they know and they don’t want to tell us,” she told FoxNews.com. “We had to tell Ryan’s office, then he had to pass that along to the State Department to get the information to confirm it. They aren’t telling his office, either. I hate to say anything bad about them because we need their help.”
The Hoerigs are optimistic that Brazil will send Sobral back to stand trial, and credit Ryan for taking up their fight. But for now, Claudia Sobral is appealing and therefore retains her Brazilian citizenship.
State Department officials did not respond to requests for comment on the case.
Brazilian officials told FoxNews.com they reopened Sobral's case simply to “verify” that her decision to become a U.S. citizen “was done without external constraints,” and then ruled in favor of revoking her Brazilian citizenship.
Sobral's case is not the only one to spotlight how Brazil's strict extradition laws can benefit potential criminals. In 2011, a former police officer awaiting drug trafficking charges in Miami fled to his native country, Brazil. And in 2007, an Austin cab driver charged with rape also fled home. Neither has been forced to come back to the U.S. to stand trial.
Ryan vowed to stay on the case.
“Whatever we can do legally to get the Brazilians to act, we’ll do," he said. "And whether it has the administration’s support or not, it doesn’t matter.”
Hoerig's parents say the nation their son served is obligated to bring his alleged killer to justice.
“He was special and we just can’t forget him,” Fran Hoerig said. “He was proud to have worked for the government."
The distraught mom said her son's trusting nature made him a victim.
“He was loving and kind," she said. "He always thought the best of everybody. He didn’t see people’s fault, which was maybe part of his downfall. And he didn’t see her faults until it was too late.”