Not charged with any crime, Caren Chali, 28, has been jailed and separated from her 3-year-old child since May 24.
The lone eyewitness to the fatal May 7 bombing at the Luxor, Chali is detained on a material witness warrant prosecutors sought to keep her from being deported to Guatemala and ensure her testimony in the capital murder case.
“She’s being treated as a criminal in this case, and she’s not,” District Judge Michael Villani said on Thursday.
Villani on Thursday granted Chali’s request to see her child as soon as possible at the jail. The child is in foster care.
The judge also scheduled a video deposition for Chali.
Prosecutors requested the deposition to record her testimony and enable her release from jail prior to the May trial.
Over defense attorneys’ objections, Villani ordered it be done during the next 30 days.
The five attorneys in the case agreed to do it Oct. 12, a Friday, and to expedite the sharing of documents in the case to prepare.
“Unless there is a major hurricane in this town, we’re going to have that deposition on the 12th,” Villani said.
Chali was with her boyfriend, Willebaldo Dorantes Antonio, in the Luxor parking garage when a pipe bomb on Dorantes Antonio’s car exploded and fatally wounded him.
Chali was unharmed and led police to Omar Rueda-Denvers, her former boyfriend, whom police believe worked with his friend Porfirio Duarte-Herrera to construct and place the bomb in an attempt to kill Chali’s boyfriend and possibly her.
Prosecutor David Stanton said she is a key witness because she saw the explosion and is able to testify about Rueda-Denvers, 32, and his friendship with Duarte-Herrera, 27.
Chali had told police that Rueda-Denvers had tried to get her back.
Before his death, Dorantes Antonio had told his employer at the Luxor that he had been threatened because of his relationship with Chali.
Chali and Rueda-Denvers, who also goes by Alexander Perez, had a child together who was brought to the United States at about 18 months, said Robert Langford, who is Chali’s court-appointed attorney.
She probably will be deported by federal authorities after her release from the Clark County Detention Center.
But Rueda-Denvers’ attorney, Pete Christiansen, said his client intends to fight any deportation of the child.
“It’s his kid,” he said.
The two defendants face a possible death penalty.
Cross-examining the prosecution’s key witness before all of the investigation is complete did not sit well with defense attorney Charles Cano, who represents Duarte-Herrera.
He argued Chali should be released from her material witness warrant and be allowed to apply for a visa to ensure her stay in the United States during the trial.
Illegal residents who have suffered mental or physical abuse as a result of a crime and who agree to help authorities prosecute are eligible for the temporary visa known as a U Visa. But Villani said it was unclear how long the application would take, whether Chali would qualify and whether she would be deported if her application was denied.
Stanton said only law enforcement, the district attorney’s office or a judge could sign off on her application. But he said prosecutors could not endorse the application because it would provide fodder for defense attorneys during cross-examination and perhaps diminish the integrity of Chali’s testimony in the eyes of the jury.
“The state kept her in jail and away from her child in order to elicit her testimony, I think that is equal fodder for cross-examination,” Christiansen said.
Langford settled the matter when he announced Chali, who is willing to testify, has not decided she wants to apply for the visa.
“The only person who is really being inconvenienced here is Ms. Chali. She’s the one who has been separated from her child,” Langford said. “Her decision-making process is how soon can she be reunited.”