How did McHenry County most-wanted man remain on lam in Mexico almost 20 years?

Why the 20-year delay in extradition from Mexico where the county’s most-wanted fugitive was living as a farmer and mechanic?

Roberto Valdez-Calixto, shown in a 2024 mugshot and in one taken before 2005, was returned to McHenry County in March 2024 for the 2005 murder in Harvard. Valdez-Calixto had topped the McHenry County most-wanted list. He had fled to Mexico, authorities said.

A McHenry County judge recused herself Friday from presiding over the case of a suspect charged with murdering a Harvard man in 2005 then fleeing to Mexico.

Roberto Valdez-Calixto, 45, was one of four men accused of stabbing and beating to death Cecilio Hernandez Ramirez, 25.

Valdez-Calixto is charged with first-degree murder, mob action and aggravated battery causing great bodily harm, according to the indictment filed in McHenry County court.

Valdez-Calixto, who has been in custody at the county jail since March 11, was set to be arraigned Friday, but Judge Tiffany Davis removed herself from the case because she had prosecuted his three co-defendants: Marciano Valdez, Jose Santos Valdez-Calixto and Juan Rivera-Garcia. Those three were arrested at the scene where Hernandez Ramirez was killed after a night of drinking and playing basketball outside a Harvard home just after midnight Feb. 20, 2005.

Roberto Valdez-Calixto fled that evening and had been No. 1 on McHenry County’s most wanted list while living in Mexico the past 20 years, authorities have said. Although local authorities had been told in 2006 that he was in Mexico, it is unclear why he only recently was captured and taken into custody at the McHenry County jail.

Harvard police Chief Tyson Bauman, who referenced old police reports, said Harvard police “knew where he was almost right away because” they heard from the victim’s family. Police received a call from a prosecutor in Mexico City in June 2006 who said a family member of the victim reported that Valdez-Calixto was living in Texcapilla, about two to three hours south of Mexico City.

Harvard police then contacted the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office and requested the services of U.S. federal officials but never heard back, Bauman said.

In a 2011 Chicago Tribune article, two reporters wrote about traveling to Mexico and finding Valdez-Calixto on a family farm on a hillside outside of Texcapilla.

According to the article, Valdez-Calixto had been living there “for several years with his wife and three children. He worked as a laborer and auto mechanic, said his wife, Araceli Ayala. She added that authorities had come looking for him right after he fled, but “to protect him, I didn’t give them any information,” according to the article.

After reaching out to U.S. federal agencies, Bauman said Harvard police heard nothing again until members of the state’s attorney’s office came to the police department in early 2022 and asked to review the case. The process started again, and Harvard police also got a visit from the FBI, Bauman said.

McHenry County Assistant State’s Attorney Kyle Bruett confirmed in an email that the office “began this recent extradition process request in 2022 with the intention of getting the defendant back to McHenry County as soon as practicable.”

Bruett said the process included filling out templates and translating information into Spanish. The Department of Justice coordinated with the FBI to facilitate the extradition, he said.

“Ultimately, we received information in May of 2023 that Mexico had obtained a warrant for the defendant’s arrest,” Bruett said. “In October of 2023, our office received information that the defendant was arrested on the warrant and was not granted bond in Mexico.”

In 2023, Harvard police received information that Valdez-Calixto was arrested in Galera in Mexico. They next heard when he was in the county jail March 11.

“In January of 2024, we received information that the extradition for the defendant from Mexico was granted and, in February of 2024, we received confirmation of his scheduled arrival to Illinois,” Bruett said. “Upon his arrival to Illinois, on or about March 6, he was taken to Cook County to await a hearing there.

“Ultimately, he was transported to McHenry County, where he was presented for [his] initial appearance [in] court.”

Bruett said he does not know why Valdez-Calixto had not been extradited sooner if authorities had known where he was since 2006.

Marciano Valdez and Jose Santos Valdez-Calixto, relatives of Roberto Valdez-Calixto, each were convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 18 years in prison. Juan Rivera-Garcia was convicted of mob action and sentenced to three years in prison, court records show.

Roberto Valdez-Calixto, who faces 20 to 60 years in prison if convicted, is being detained in the county jail pretrial. He is due to be arraigned April 3.

Representatives of the Department of Justice and FBI could not be reached for comment.