Johnny Sanchez, a citizen of Honduras who illegally entered the United States by crossing the southeastern California border in 2012, was charged with a vacant building fire in Los Angeles that killed five homeless people last week. Authorities said the victims’ bodies were found after sniffer dogs discovered them under a heap of debris.
According to the Washington Post, the 21-year-old man was previously released after being arrested as an undocumented immigrant — because he had no criminal history in the United States or prior immigration violations. On Friday, officials confirmed he was arrested for alleged drug possession and domestic violence on multiple occasions. However, none of the arrests resulted in deportation.
Johnny Sanchez was reportedly placed under surveillance when he illegally entered the United states in 2012. Although he was instructed to report to immigration authorities on a regular basis, he stopped reporting in 2014.
Officials confirmed no searches were conducted for the undocumented immigrant, and a warrant was never issued for his arrest.
— KOLO8 (@KOLO8) June 18, 2016
Immigration Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice confirmed Sanchez was not pursued because he had no prior criminal offenses. She also confirmed the agency generally focuses on “individuals who pose a public safety threat.”
Johnny Sanchez, who was homeless at the time of his arrest, reportedly started the fire amid a disagreement with the three men and two women squatting in a vacant building that used to house an acupuncture clinic.
It took two hours and nearly 150 firefighters to contain the massive fire. Despite the fact that it did not look as if the structure was badly damaged from the outside, the inside was badly burned and the roof was completely destroyed.
— Firefighter Nation (@firenation) June 16, 2016
Although the building was flanked by an apartment building and a strip mall, the surrounding buildings did not suffer any significant damage.
As reported by ABC7, Authorities confirmed the five victims burned to death in the devastating inferno. According to reports, their bodies were buried beneath the building’s collapsed roof.
The coroner’s office identified some of the fire victims as Mary Ann Davis, 44, Jerry Dean Clemons, 59, and another victim simply as a man known as “Jokerface.”
Sahara McFadden described Jokerface as a kind-hearted man, who was outgoing and very friendly. She admitted she used drugs with Jokerface and played with his pit bull, Gucci, just days before the deadly blaze.
Neighbors say the empty building was a haven for homeless people and drug users who found a way in through a metal garage door in the alleyway.
Johnny Sanchez was arrested and later indicted on five counts of premeditated murder. Los Angeles Police Captain Billy Hayes said Sanchez clearly started the fire with the intent to kill. However, prosecutors are still deliberating whether they will seek the death penalty against the undocumented immigrant.
The case is sure to become controversial, as immigration remains a heated topic in the United States and throughout the world. Those who a promote increased immigration control argue that stricter laws would prevent criminals like Johnny Sanchez from entering or remaining in the United States and committing a violent crime.
Those who are opposed to stronger immigration laws argue that most immigrants, even those who are undocumented, are unlikely to commit a violent crime.
It is unclear whether Johnny Sanchez has a criminal history prior to entering the United States. However, he is now charged with five counts of capital murder. He is currently being held without bond pending trial. Although California does have the option of the death penalty in premeditated murder cases, prosecutors have not determined whether they will pursue capital punishment.
[Image via Makler0008/Shutterstock]