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Senate to interrogate border agents’ prosecutor

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Senate hearing today into the convictions of two U.S. Border Patrol agents who shot a fleeing drug-smuggling suspect is expected to spark heated debate as the U.S. attorney who brought the charges defends the prosecutions.

U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton will tell the Senate Judiciary Committee that a jury in Texas heard all the evidence against agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean in their shooting of Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila and ruled it was not justified.

"This case is not about illegal immigration but the rule of law," said Mr. Sutton. "After a 2½-week jury trial, these former agents were convicted of shooting at and seriously wounding an unarmed, fleeing suspect who posed no threat to them."

Another witness, T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Counsel (NBPC) who has angrily denounced the prosecution, will challenge the government's case, saying there were only three witnesses to the incident and prosecutors believed Mr. Aldrete-Davila over the two agents.

"The only way to conclude that Agents Ramos and Compean should have been prosecuted is if the word of the known drug smuggler is given more credence than the sworn statements of two law-enforcement officers," said Mr. Bonner, whose union represents all 11,000 of the agency's nonsupervisory personnel.

The committee also will hear from Border Patrol Chief David V. Aguilar, Border Patrol Deputy Chief Luis Barker and Ramos' appellate counsel, David L. Botsford.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and chairman of the Judiciary subcommittee on terrorism, technology and homeland security, first raised questions about the prosecutions in February. Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, has ruled she will preside over the hearing.

Ramos, 37, and Compean, 28, were sentenced in October to 11- and 12-year prison terms for shooting Mr. Aldrete-Davila in the buttocks after he refused to stop his van and fled on foot into Mexico after abandoning 743 pounds of marijuana. He was located in Mexico by Homeland Security officials and returned to the U.S. under a grant of immunity to testify against the agents.

Mrs. Feinstein has called the sentences "extreme ... given the fact Mr. Aldrete-Davila had physically resisted at least one attempt by agents Ramos and Compean to bring him into custody."

She said neither of the agents had prior convictions or other aggravating circumstances to warrant particularly harsh treatment under the law. But, she said, the agents were given sentences "that some individuals who are convicted of murder wouldn't receive."

Mr. Sutton has steadfastly argued that the jury heard all the evidence in the case, including the agents' claims of self-defense, but "did not find their stories credible." He said the jury found no credible evidence the agents were in a life-threatening situation or that Mr. Aldrete-Davila had a weapon that would justify the use of deadly force.

"Unfortunately, some of the media attention and heated debate over the prosecution of this case has been based on, and has led to, many factual inaccuracies and unfounded criticism," he said. "Instead of reporting the shooting as required, the agents covered it up, destroyed evidence and filed a false report."