By Betsy Rothstein - 03/05/08 07:08 PM EST
When a homicide rocked the small community of Warren, Ohio, last March, it wasn’t surprising that the congressman who represents the area, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), was among the first officials called in to assist.
An intimate, tight-knit blue-collar town, Warren lies 14 miles northwest of Youngstown and 15 miles west of the Pennsylvania state line. It is famous for a few things: It is the birthplace of Roger Ailes, president of the Fox News Channel, as well as a 1970s rock band called Mom’s Apple Pie. In 1980, the town was wiped off the map by a tornado, but has since experienced a rebirth. It’s the kind of place where everyone is acquainted and strangers are quickly noticed.
Yet what happened in early March last year was not at the hands of a stranger, but of Claudia Hoerig, who allegedly shot and killed her husband, Karl Hoerig, a war veteran who flew 200 combat hours in Afghanistan and Iraq and a pilot for Southwest Airlines.
She then fled for her native country of Brazil and hasn’t been seen since. It is Brazil’s policy, under its constitution, not to extradite its own citizens. Due to a 1964 extradition treaty between Brazil and the U.S., Hoerig, who has dual citizenship, can remain there as long as she pleases despite warrants for her arrest in Ohio.
This has Ryan hopping mad.
“To be frank, I don’t know what the end result is going to be,” said Ryan in a recent interview in his Longworth office. “They are saying it’s a constitutional issue, which would be a heavy lift to [change].”
He added: “It’s going to be a lot of work, but we are prepared to do it. I don’t think Brazil wants to be seen as harboring a woman who killed a soldier.”
The problem? While Brazilian and U.S. officials are willing to discuss the matter with Ryan — including meetings with the Brazilian ambassador and letters exchanged with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — no one is willing to negotiate with the Brazilian government or help change the constitution to get the woman returned to Ohio to face murder charges. Ryan said the letters exchanged with Rice’s office are form letters and nothing more.
“We’re not saying they have to extradite everybody, but can’t they extradite those who murder soldiers?” he said.
The congressman wants relief for the victim’s relatives.
“This is very important to the family back home,” he said. “Obviously they don’t have any closure. It’s just been very, very frustrating for the family. It’s obviously heartbreaking. To sit down with the brother of a soldier who was killed makes it very personal, very human.”
Neighbors of the victim and members of the community are amazed that the suspect has not yet been brought to justice.
“They don’t understand why you can’t get this woman back. [Karl Hoerig] was a community hero,” Ryan said. “There is some sense that there is no justice here, no closure, and the woman who did this is still running around Brazil.”
Tom Yovich, who has covered some 400 homicides for the Youngstown Vindicator, said the community is “disappointed” by the lack of justice.
“The real crack in the gut is that Brazil wouldn’t allow her to be extradited. I know it’s very frustrating for the family and to Congressman Ryan. I think he’s doing the best he can. I don’t know, how do you change a country’s mind?”
Although Ryan knows that nothing is certain and his hands are tied, he says he will proceed through the bureaucratic maze.
In recent weeks, the congressman has been mulling over legislation that would do two things: change the Brazilian constitution so that the woman could be extradited back to the U.S.; and curb U.S. aide to Brazil until Brasilia addresses the matter.
Ryan has drafted the legislation but has not yet dropped the bill. He said he is coordinating with congressional lawyers to make sure the bill is feasible and not just another piece of legislation for the black hole of The Congressional Record. He also wants to ensure that he can gain the interest of his colleagues — a tough feat in a body whose members are all looking to please their constituents.
According to the indictment, Claudia Hoerig on March 10 went to Slugmasters, a gun shop in nearby Braceville, and purchased a .357 revolver. She then visited the Warren Shooting Range for target practice. Two days later, her husband was found dead in their home in Newton Falls, a small town adjacent to Warren.
But just before the body was discovered, she drove to Pittsburgh in the couple’s black BMW, hopped a train to New York City and flew to her native Brazil, where she has allegedly been ever since.