HIGHLAND | If some alleged felons run far enough away from Lake County, they don't have to hide, because local authorities will not pursue them.
That is the message a Highland mother says is being sent by the Lake Criminal Court in the case of her daughter, who at age 11 allegedly was molested by a family member visiting the region from Texas.
Last month, Brownsville, Texas, police and the U.S. Marshals Service arrested that family member, 74-year-old Enrique Marks Jr., on an active felony warrant related to the molestation case. It was filed in Lake Criminal Court in 2009.
Records at the Lake County clerk's office indicate that on Oct. 12, local criminal court Judge Diane Boswell declined to extradite Marks back to Lake County from his Texas jail cell, citing budget constraints. Ultimately, Texas authorities said, they released Marks, of Brownsville, on Oct. 17.
It's not the first time this has occurred. Lake County court records also show Texas police stopped Marks on the same warrant in 2009 but let him go when Lake County declined to extradite him. Lake County authorities cited distance as the reason for not extraditing in that instance.
Notes in the case file pertaining to that 2009 court order indicate authorities would only extradite Marks if he was arrested within 300 miles of Lake County. Brownsville, located on the Texas/Mexico border, is about 1,400 miles away.
But the mother of the then-11-year-old girl -- who according to Lake County court records allegedly was groped, kissed and fondled by Marks in August 2009 -- said she can't believe justice isn't being pursued.
"I even told them (Lake County authorities) I would pay for the extradition if cost was the issue," she said. "He needs to be held responsible for what he did."
Marks did not return calls placed by The Times on Friday to his Brownsville home seeking comment on the case.
When she learned last month authorities were going to release Marks -- a fugitive of more than three years -- the alleged victim's mother said she was dumbfounded.
"I almost couldn't believe it," she said. "I broke down and cried."
Boswell did not return calls placed by The Times seeking comment on the case.
Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter said the local criminal courts have a policy of not extraditing defendants charged with Class C felonies if the travel distance is greater than 500 miles. Marks is charged with a Class C felony.
Carter said extradition for murder and Class A and B felonies, which include narcotics dealing, burglary, arson and rape, is automatic regardless of distance or cost.
Carter said that policy is enforced on a case-by-case, court-by-court basis.
"It's the judge's call in each particular courtroom," he said.
Carter said he is not happy with the decision in this particular case.
"Normally, I would want us to go after that kind of charge," he said.
But Carter did say extradition costs can be exorbitant, making it increasingly difficult to pursue justice.
He said the county uses a private firm to extradite wanted defendants who are located long distances away, and the cost is about 80 cents to $1 per mile.*
"It's ridiculously high," he said.
The decision not to extradite Marks left Brownsville, Texas, police scratching their heads.
Agent Ted Torres, of the Brownsville Police Special Investigations Unit, said police officers and agents with the U.S. Marshals Service arrested Marks last month after receiving a complaint the suspect was wanted on the Lake County warrant and living in Brownsville.
Torres said the department ran Marks' name through an FBI national warrant system Oct. 10, and it confirmed Marks was wanted on the Lake County charges.
Torres said the system also indicated Lake County authorities would extradite the defendant if he was arrested in another jurisdiction.
"I'm just surprised by what happened," Torres said. "According to the warrant in the national system, there was going to be full extradition. It's a shame."
The mother of the alleged victim said her daughter, now in her teens, continues receiving psychiatric treatment and counseling because of the incident.
"Her life will never be the same," the mother said. "Something was taken from her that she can't get back."
The warrant remains active, and Marks is still charged with child molesting.
Also in the October court order declining to extradite Marks is a command that he turn himself in to the Lake County Jail.
But the victim's mother said it's as if Lake County authorities have given Marks the option of whether he wants to stand trial for his alleged crimes or go free.
"I feel it's like they're saying if you commit a crime, come to Indiana, and then leave the state and you'll be free," she said.
* Editor's note: The cost per mile of transporting a fugitive has been updated from an earlier version because of inaccurate information provided to The Times.