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European rights court OKs extradition of suspects wanted in US

The two suspects unsuccessfully argued that deporting them to the U.S. would violate their rights because they are facing sentences of life without parole, which is illegal under the European Convention on Human Rights.

STRASBOURG, France (CN) — Europe’s top rights court on Thursday gave the green light to the United Kingdom and Italy's deportation of two suspects wanted for serious crimes in the United States after finding the pair wouldn’t face sentences of life without parole. 

The convention which underpins the European Court of Human Rights forbids lifelong prison sentences without a possibility for review, which lawyers for Beverly Ann McCallum and Ismail Sanchez-Sanchez argued is precisely what their clients would face if they are extradited to the U.S.

McCallum was handed over to authorities in Michigan over the summer after prosecutors assured Italy they would not pursue a life sentence without the possibility of parole. She is accused of the 2002 murder of her husband, Robert Caraballo, whose burned body was so badly damaged authorities were unable to identify his remains until 2015. McCallum fled abroad after his body was identified and she was arrested in Italy in 2020. 

Police say McCallum, her then-21-year-old daughter and a friend pushed Caraballo down a flight of stairs and bludgeoned him with a hammer before suffocating him to death and then burning his body.

The Strasbourg-based rights court rejected McCallum's complaint Thursday after hearing arguments in February, as prosecutors in her case had already agreed to charge her with the lesser crime of second-degree murder in exchange for her extradition.

She is now awaiting trial in Michigan. Her daughter was convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in February and was sentenced to life without parole. 

Sanchez-Sanchez is a Mexican national who was arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2018 at the request of U.S. authorities. Wanted by police in Georgia for allegedly running a drug trafficking operation, he filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights after he lost his fight against extradition in British courts.

In his case, the 17-judge panel found that while it was possible to receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole for drug trafficking in Georgia, such sentences are rare. Four other defendants charged alongside Sanchez-Sanchez were given jail sentences ranging from six to 20 years, and the two co-conspirators given the 20-year sentences were charged with additional crimes. 

"The applicant cannot be said to have adduced evidence capable of showing that his extradition to the US would expose him to a real risk of treatment reaching the Article 3 threshold," the court wrote, referring to a provision in the European Convention on Human Rights prohibiting inhumane or degrading punishment.

The European Court of Human Rights has heard several cases from defendants fighting extradition to the U.S. in recent years. In nearly all cases, the court has found their complaints inadmissible, citing the robustness of the U.S. judicial system. In 2014, however, the judges sided with a Tunisian man who was extradited from Belgium to Washington on charges of terrorism because he was facing life in prison with no possibility of parole. Nizar Trabelsi has been in a U.S. jail awaiting trial for nine years.

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