Transcripts shed light on testimony against Border Patrol agents
February 14, 2007
WASHINGTON - Newly released transcripts from the trial of two Border Patrol agents imprisoned for shooting and wounding a Mexican drug courier shed fresh details on the immunity deal negotiated by U.S. prosecutors to secure the trafficker's testimony.
Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila testified under oath that he had declined to cooperate with U.S. authorities until he was given assurances that he would not be prosecuted for driving a van loaded with 743 pounds of marijuana.
He also acknowledged during the trial last year that he was suing the government for $5 million to compensate for injuries sustained during the shooting incident near the U.S.-Mexican border in far west Texas. The disposition of the case is unclear; Aldrete-Davila's attorney, Walter L. Boyaki of El Paso, has not responded to recent phone calls.
"And you're not going to serve one day in prison for the offenses that you committed on that day?" Aldrete-Davila was asked by a defense attorney for one of the two agents. "Is that correct?"
"No. No, that was the agreement that we made," he responded.
The long-delayed transcripts were posted Tuesday on the Web site of U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton of San Antonio, whose office prosecuted the case. Lawmakers have demanded the transcripts to seek answers about the immunity arrangement and other aspects of the controversial prosecution.
Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean are serving sentences of 11 and 12 years, respectively, after a federal jury in El Paso found them guilty on March 17, 2006, of failing to report the shooting and attempting to cover it up. Compean fired at least 14 shots and Ramos fired once, striking Aldrete-Davila in the buttocks.
Conservative Republicans and grassroots organizations are demanding a presidential pardon for the two agents in what they say was a case of distorted justice. But Sutton and his defenders say the two agents abused their authority and fired on an unarmed man before they were aware that he was hauling drugs.
The outcry on behalf of the agents escalated last week after Ramos was allegedly beaten by fellow inmates at a federal prison in Yazoo City, Miss., after they discovered he was a Border Patrol agent. Both agents said they believed Aldrete-Davila had a gun, and they opened fire because they thought their lives were in danger.
The conflicting accounts reverberated throughout the two-week trial in opening statements and testimony presented by the opposing sides. U.S. Attorney Debra P. Kanof, the lead prosecutor, said the agents shot "a fleeing individual in the back without cause" and "didn't want anybody to find out about it."
But defense attorneys said the two agents were trying to do their job in a life-threatening situation. They also repeatedly hammered away at the testimony of Aldrete-Davila and the legal protection granted him through the immunity agreement arranged by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Aldrete-Davila fled across the Rio Grande into Mexico after the shooting. The Department of Homeland Security, the Border Patrol's parent agency, began an investigation after Border Patrol Agent Rene Sanchez learned of the incident through contacts in Mexico.
Sanchez, a U.S. citizen who spent part of his youth in Mexico, acknowledged that he had known Aldrete-Davila "when I was a little kid" in a suburb of Juarez, but he told attorneys they had no substantive contacts in recent years. A friend of the Aldrete-Davila family mentioned the shooting to Sanchez's mother-in-law in a phone call, and the agent, in turn, began looking into the incident, according to testimony.
Sanchez, who was based in Willcox, Ariz., talked to Aldrete-Davila by phone, then wrote a memo to his supervisor. In his testimony in court, Aldrete-Davila said it was Sanchez who suggested an immunity agreement.
"He mentioned to me that it could be handled this way," Aldrete-Davila testified under cross-examination.
The DHS investigation was headed by Christopher Sanchez (unrelated to Rene Sanchez), who worked with the Border Patrol agent and eventually met Aldrete-Davila at the U.S. Consulate in Juarez. Initially, the DHS investigator said, Aldrete-Davila "did not want to talk to me" but agreed to cooperate after being given limited immunity sparing him from prosecution for crimes that occurred on the day of the shooting.
"We gave him an immunity because he didn't want to cooperate," Kanof, the prosecutor, told the court.
DHS officials also arranged for Aldrete-Davila to be treated at the William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, where the bullet was removed and later used as evidence.
Aldrete-Davila acknowledged that he was hired to cross the border and haul a load of drugs to a stash house. But Judge Kathleen Cardone limited attorneys from asking more detailed questions about the drug trafficking organization, saying, "I don't want to get into this entire crime, OK, because he is not on trial."
To view the court transcripts, go to:
© 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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