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Texas police questioned man days for California murders

This photo of the Texas Department of Public Safety shows Ramon Escobar. Escobar, who was deported from the United States six times, was expected in court Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018, to face the charges after police say he killed three people injured and four in attacks focused on sleeping homeless men in California. Investigators believe Escobar began the attacks of the men in random order in Sept. 8, shortly after he arrived in California from Houston, where he is considered a person of interest in the disappearance of his uncle and aunt. (Texas Department of Public Safety via AP)

LOS ANGELES – a man with a history of violence, who would be deported from the United States six times, it was not marked for arrest by Houston police, and fled to California, where he is now charged in a series of murders, authorities said.

Ramon Escobar, 47, came to the attention of Houston police with his aunt and uncle disappeared in August, but he was released because no crime was suspected, Houston police spokesman Kese Smith said Wednesday.

“We had no probable cause to arrest or book him,” Smith said.

However, Smith added that foul play is now suspected in the disappearance.

Escobar arrived in California earlier this month, where the authorities say he began a series of attacks that killed three men and seriously injured four, most of them homeless.

Researchers believe that Escobar clubbed the man with a wooden baseball bat or bolt cutters if they slept on the beach or on the streets of Los Angeles and Santa Monica to rob.

Escobar was charged Wednesday in Los Angeles County with three counts of murder, five counts of attempted murder and four counts of second-degree robbery in attacks involving homeless men. He was ordered held without bail pending a Nov. 8 arriagnment.

It could not immediately be determined whether he had a lawyer.

The El Salvador native has a long criminal history, including six misdemeanor convictions for theft and illegal re-entry, but the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released him from custody after Escobar won an appeal in immigration court in 2016.

Immigration records are generally not public, so it remained a mystery how he won.

Andrew Arthur, a retired immigration judge, said the Board of Immigration Appeals may have allowed Escobar to remain in the country and will be released under ICE supervision by granting him asylum or another form of assistance, such as “withholding of removal” or protection under the un Convention Against Torture.

“Even people with terrible criminal records are able to access humanitarian assistance remain in the United States,” said Arthur, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for restrictions on immigration.

John Sandweg, a former acting director of ICE, said a serious criminal record can hurt an asylum application, but does not disqualify someone from the suspension of the removal. In contrast to asylum, withholding of removal does not include a path to citizenship and is therefore considered to be less attractive.

Last November, Escobar was arrested on felony sexual assault charges by a Harris County, Texas, authorities, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. He was sentenced for the crime in May.

It was not immediately clear why he remained free after the sentencing.

ICE spokeswoman Paige Hughes declined to comment on Escobar’s case than a statement late Tuesday. The Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees the immigration courts, for not providing information.

Escobar was looking for work and needed a place to stay, so his aunt and uncle Dina and Rogelio Escobar, took him, his cousin Ligia Salamanca, told KTRK-TV in Houston on Tuesday.

Days later, 65-year-old Rogelio Escobar went missing, Houston police said in a statement. Dina Escobar, 60, was last seen on Aug. 28 when she went to find her brother.

Her burned truck was found in Galveston, Texas, a few days later.

“She loved him as she would a son,” Salamanca said her mother’s dedication to Ramon Escobar.

Ramon Escobar was questioned and released by Houston police on Aug. 30.

Immigration status is verified by the Houston police only when a person is booked in the city jail after he was accused of a crime, Smith said.

After he arrived in California, the attacks began.

Two homeless men sleeping on the beach were clubbed in the head early on Sept. 8 and Sept. 10, leaving one in critical condition, the officials said.

Another man who apparently was sleeping on the beach was found dead under the Santa Monica Pier on Sept. 20. Steven Ray Cruze, Jr., 39, of San Gabriel, had been beaten to death.

Authorities at first described him as homeless, but family and friends said the father of two, who loved fishing on the pier, worked boats in the neighboring Marina del Rey and sometimes camped out under the pier to avoid the long trip home.

Authorities arrested Ramon on Monday.

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Balancing reported from San Diego. Associated Press writer David Warren in Dallas contributed to this.

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