Convicted on a federal hostage-taking charge, Luis Gerardo Betancourt faces life in prison.
Betancourt, though, may never spend a day behind bars — thanks to a bureaucratic blunder by the federal government, which “inadvertently” released him before trial.
“They released him by mistake because they thought the case had been dismissed,” said attorney Richard R. Alamia of Edinburg, who represents Betancourt.
The U.S. Marshals Service transferred Betancourt to the Starr County jail, where he would await trial.
Prosecutors eventually decided to drop five of the seven charges against Betancourt and filed the motion on March 6 — the day before jury selection.
U.S. District Judge Randy Crane granted the motion on March 9, dismissing two drug charges and three charges of lying to FBI agents. Two charges remained: hostage taking and conspiracy to transport aliens within the United States.
What, exactly, happened next remains unclear.
Someone apparently thought all charges against Betancourt had been dismissed and sent the Starr County jail a standard Marshals Service document called a “Prisoner Remand or Order to Deliver and Receipt for U.S. Prisoners.”
Jailers released Betancourt on March 10, according to Starr County Sheriff’s Office records.
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