Dickinson murder suspect's trial on sex charges in US will delay extradition

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The Independent US

The man accused of murdering the schoolgirl Caroline Dickinson has had his trial in the US on sex-offence charges delayed until October, prosecutors said yesterday.

Francisco Arce Montez, 51, is due to be extradited to France to face trial on charges of raping and murdering the 13-year-old schoolgirl from Launceston, Cornwall, in a youth hostel dormitory in July 1996. She was on a school trip to Brittany at the time.

But he first has to go on trial in Miami, Florida, on charges of breaking into a woman's house and committing a lewd act. A spokeswoman for the Florida State Attorney's office, which is prosecuting Mr Montez in Miami, said his trial would take place on 29 October.

It had originally been scheduled for 2 July but was delayed at the request of the defence, she said. His publicly funded defence lawyer, Brian McDonald, wants more time to interview witnesses. His request for a delay was granted by Judge David Young at a hearing in his chambers.

Mr Montez, a Spaniard, remains in prison in Florida awaiting the trial. The move means that November is now the earliest Mr Montez could be sent to France to face trial there.

He was ordered to be extradited in June after a DNA sample taken from him showed what prosecutors said was a "100%" match with DNA evidence found at the scene of Caroline's murder.

It was the Spaniard's arrest in Miami earlier this year which led to his extradition. An illegal immigrant to the US, his name was seen on a Department of Immigration bulletin by an alert official who remembered reading a newspaper story while on holiday in Britain which named Montez as the prime suspect in the inquiry into Caroline's death.

His defence lawyers currently have the option of appealing his extradition by a legal procedure known as habeas corpus, which would mean asking the US government to justify keeping him in custody.

The full appeal process could take two years but Montez's lawyers have yet to file papers to begin it.

It is also unclear what would happen if he was found guilty at his trial in Florida on sex-offence charges and sentenced to time in custody there. Justice department and immigration authorities would have to decide if he should stay in America for the duration of the sentence or if he could serve the time while on remand in a French prison.