Lyglenson Lemorin's life already read like a John Grisham novel with a particularly cruel ending: acquitted in court of cooked-up, Bush-era terrorism charges, the legal U.S. resident with no criminal record was deported anyway to his native, earthquake-ravaged Haiti, leaving his family behind in Miami.
Now Lemorin's tale has taken a positively Dickensian turn for the worse. On April 1, his teenage son was killed in a gruesome highway accident, and Lemorin was denied permission to come back for the boy's funeral.
"It's just devastating," says Debbie Carter, an advocate who worked for Lemorin's acquittal. "The government is totally heartless."
In 2006, Lemorin was charged along with six other Little Haiti residents of conspiring with Al-Qaeda to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago. It was just the kind of splashy anti-terrorism case then-Attorney General John Ashcroft was pushing, and the charges made worldwide news.
The problem was, the case was flimsier than Ashcroft's grasp of basic civil liberties. In 2007, a jury acquitted Lemorin and deadlocked on the other defendants, who became known as the Liberty City Seven.
Nonetheless, even after his acquittal, Lemorin was held in immigration jail for more than five years. Under the Patriot Act, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is allowed to deport terrorism suspects even if they're found not guilty; in February, a U.S. appeals court ruled that Lemorin could indeed be sent back to Haiti.
He left behind three kids in North Miami Beach. At the beginning of the month, his 15-year-old son Lukenson was riding with friends on I-95, heading toward a bowling alley, when their car died. As they got out to push the vehicle to the shoulder, a car clipped Lukenson, throwing him to the pavement and killing him on the spot.
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Lemorin was devastated. "He kept asking me: 'What do I do? What do I do?' over and over," says Carter, who called him in Port-au-Prince shortly after the accident.
Charles Kuck, Lemorin's Atlanta-based counsel, says he talked to ICE lawyers who told him there was no chance he'd be allowed back for the funeral.
"Given the notoriety of his case, they were never going to allow him to return, even in shackles," he says. "It's a travesty." (An ICE spokesman, however, says it would be the State Department's call.)
Either way, the family is struggling to pay more than $10,000 in funeral costs. "In Haiti, he's got no job or income. He's really struggling," Carter says. "This family is desperate."