By Samantha Henry, Associated Press Writer
A Costa Rican woman who was on an international most wanted list after a murder 12 years ago until her arrest in the United States has filed a federal lawsuit over what she says is a lack of health services in New Jersey so severe that her advanced stage of breast cancer went undetected.
A lawyer for Maria Magdalena Pacheco Bolanos said his client went from a young woman who panicked and fled Costa Rica after the death of a prominent newspaper executive to a mother of three living in a $1 million home on Long Island, where she ran a successful landscaping business.
Attorney Gil Garcia alleges Pacheco’s former boyfriend was responsible for the 1997 slaying. Pacheco is charged as an accomplice.
The international police organization Interpol caught up to the 39-year-old woman in April 2008. She was arrested in Long Island, and remains in custody in the Hudson County Correctional Center in New Jersey, pending her extradition to Costa Rica to stand trial.
Garcia said his client did not have access to a doctor or undergo medical tests for 10 months of her detention, despite repeated complaints to medical staff that she felt a lump in her breast.
By the time an immigration judge ordered her brought to a doctor, Pacheco was diagnosed with an advanced case of breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy, Garcia said.
“It’s not so much the issue of a latent diagnosis, but it’s what tantamounts to cruel and unusual punishment under the Constitution,” he said. “If you commit cruel and unusual punishment — and it could be tantamount to a death sentence in this case — they have to pay for it.”
The suit was filed Dec. 2 in federal court in Newark.
Jim Kennelly, a Hudson County spokesman who handles jail inquiries, said he would look into the complaint, but had no immediate comment. A spokesperson for the Costa Rican consulate in New York said inquiries about the case must be submitted in writing and would be referred to government officials in Costa Rica.
Garcia denied the lawsuit was an attempt to delay his client’s extradition. He said she was cooperating with U.S. and Costa Rican authorities on her transfer to the Central American country. Meanwhile, he said, her requests for timely radiation treatments have been delayed.
“Inmates have many more medical issues than the general population, and receive much worse medical attention,” Garcia said. “They are in jail for a reason — there’s no doubt about that — but to deny them the proper medical care adds an extra layer to their punishment that is not contemplated by the law.”
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.