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Taking sides south of the border

Free Dog.

Shouldn't someone take the side of the team that helped bring scumbag rapist Andrew Luster back to his new home in the correctional system of the state of California? Particularly when the very same Mexican justice system that is holding Duane Lee "Dog" Chapman and his crew refuses to send back Mexicans who commit murder in California and then flee across the border.

In case you missed it, Andrew Luster is the grown-up little rich kid who drugged young women and then videotaped himself having sex with them, saying in one memorable exchange that there was nothing he liked better than a passed-out naked girl in his room. Dog Chapman and his group tracked him down, tackled him outside his hotel in Puerto Vallarta, and then got arrested themselves.

Mexico immediately deported Luster on the grounds that he had entered Mexico illegally because he'd used a false name, and the Max Factor heir is currently serving the 124-year term to which he had been sentenced in absentia. Chapman's group is currently facing charges for criminal association and _ get this _ for depriving Luster of his liberty. Initial expectations that charges would be dropped or reduced have been replaced by reports suggesting that defendants could face years in prison: Each charge carries up to four years.

Meanwhile, Armando Garcia is free on the streets of Mexico. According to California authorities, Garcia is a convicted methamphetamine dealer who was in California illegally. During a routine traffic stop in April 2002, he allegedly shot and killed a 33-year-old sheriff's deputy named David March. Garcia then fled to Mexico.

Mexico refuses to extradite Mexican citizens who might face sentences of death or life imprisonment in the United States. Los Angeles County alone has 150 cases in which individuals wanted or convicted of crimes have fled to Mexico to avoid justice. Garcia's is one of the best known, because he shot a peace officer and because March's widow, Teri, is a brave woman who has made this her cause.

If you want to see how absurd this policy is, consider what Andrew Luster might have done if he were just a little bit smarter. Lacking one Mexican parent, which would make him a Mexican citizen, his other option was marriage. Had he married a Mexican woman, he would have had a claim on Mexican citizenship, which would have given him the right to claim protection from the life sentence he was already facing. This is a man whose specialty was charming women. Pretty terrifying.

But not as terrifying as what happened to Teri March, who got one of those calls that every police officer's wife or husband fears most. What has to make it worse is that authorities know where the man they suspect killed her husband is and, much to their frustration and hers, can't do anything about it.

The controversy is the latest round in a drama that goes back to the 1990 torture of a Drug Enforcement Administration agent by Mexican drug dealers. A team run by another DEA agent went to Mexico and seized one of the men charged with the murder. The defendant in that case, who was subsequently acquitted, first argued that he couldn't be tried at all in this country because the government seized him illegally. In a 1992 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed by a 6-3 vote. Even though American authorities pledged to work through channels rather than outside the law, Mexico responded by adopting a policy of strict sovereignty when it comes to law enforcement.

In the wake of the publicity around the killing of Teri March's husband, the Mexican government offered to try the suspect in the killing and sentence him according to their laws. The problem with that offer, according to the district attorney of Los Angeles, is that "their brand of justice is wholly inadequate and may not be justice at all." Most prison sentences are "beyond lenient" and cannot be verified by American authorities.

Maybe Dog Chapman will get lucky.

"My anger has shifted," Teri March told a local reporter last week. "I'm no longer mad at Armando Garcia _ I'm mad at the U.S. and Mexican governments for allowing him to get away with killing my husband."

Meanwhile, one of the women Andrew Luster raped was reported to be relieved that her nightmare finally had some closure. Free Dog.

Susan Estrich is a syndicated columnist and a law professor at the University of Southern California.

Creators Syndicate