Haitian citizen fights deportation following sexual assault of teenage girl
Rockville — Testifying via cellphone from Port-au-Prince Monday, a 30-year-old man who was deported to Haiti last year after his conviction in a Norwich sexual assault case said he would not have pleaded guilty had he known it would result in his removal from the U.S.
Manno Joseph was deemed an aggravated felon and deported on July 19, 2016, after serving a year in prison for engaging in a sex act with a 14-year-old girl at a party in Norwich in July 2013. He had been a legal permanent resident of the United States since 2007 and was working in the housekeeping department at Foxwoods Resort Casino, according to court documents.
Joseph called into Superior Court Judge Vernon Oliver's courtroom in Rockville Monday for his habeas corpus appeal, a legal proceeding available to those who have exhausted other avenues of relief. A clerk placed a telephone set on the judge's bench and turned on the speaker to broadcast Joseph's testimony. A Haitian creole interpreter stood in the witness box and relayed information back and forth in creole and English.
Joseph, speaking over crying children and traffic noises on his end of the connection, admitted under cross-examination by prosecutor Theresa Anne Ferryman that the 14-year-old girl had performed oral sex on him. He said he did not know the girl was under age. Despite the confession, he said he would have risked a trial, where he could have received a sentence of more than 40 years in prison if convicted, had he known that pleading guilty would result in his deportation.
His criminal case had been heard in New London Superior Court. Charged with a home invasion and the sex crimes, attorney Peter D. Catania and Ferryman negotiated a plea deal involving a nine-month prison sentence, 10 years of strict probation and registry as a sexual offender. The state agreed not to prosecute the home invasion charge.
"I pled guilty because I did not know they were going to deport me," he testified. "If I had known I was going to be deported, I would have fought the charges."
Joseph confirmed, under questioning by his attorney, Brittany B. Paz, that he offered to serve a longer prison sentence if it meant he would not be deported.
Judge Hillary B. Strackbein had given him the standard warning, when he pleaded guilty in July 2015 to risk of injury to a minor, that if he wasn't a citizen of the United States, his conviction may result in deportation, removal, exclusion from the country or denial of naturalization. His attorney, Peter Catania, had discussed the immigration implications with him and sent him a letter indicating he may be subject to deportation. The letter did not indicate deportation is mandatory for those convicted of risk of injury to a minor, an aggravated felony.
Joseph said he and Catania discussed the possiblity of deportation, but he didn't think the United States was deporting people to Haiti following the catastrophic earthquake of 2010.
"I warned him that deportation was going to be a real possibility," Catania said Monday evening by phone. He said he consulted with the public defender's office and tried to delay the case until Joseph's family could hire an immigration attorney. At the time, he said, deportation was not a sure thing for those convicted of felonies.
The U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement Agency seemed to step up its efforts after the June 2015 death of Casey Chadwick in Norwich, Catania said. Chadwick was killed by Jean Jacques, a Haitian national whom the United States failed to deport following an earlier attempted murder conviction.
Both attorneys had finished questioning Joseph Monday when Joseph said his phone minutes were running out and the call ended. Oliver ended the hearing after telling the attorneys to summarize their cases in written briefs.
Outside the courtroom, Paz said that if the judge rules Catania did not effectively warn Joseph and orders a new trial, it is unclear whether immigration officials would grant Joseph permission to re-enter the country to fight the charges. The Trump administration has directed ICE to step up its deportation efforts for non-citizens who have pending charges.
Joseph, whose close family members live in the United States, is sleeping on somebody's couch in the Haitian capital, according to Paz. Detained when he went to see his probation officer following his release from prison, Joseph attempted to appeal his deportation baseed on a claim that going back to Haiti would be torture due to the gangs and violence that abound. A judge rejected the order, which did not cite a specific threat.
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