- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 20, 2007

A preliminary hearing for a U.S. Border Patrol agent charged in the January shooting death of a Mexican national near Naco, Ariz., has been delayed for a month and a new judge has been assigned to the case.

Agent Nicholas Corbett, 39, is scheduled for a hearing before Justice of the Peace David Morales in Bisbee, Ariz., on June 15. He is accused of first-degree and second-degree murder, manslaughter and negligent homicide in the Jan. 12 death of Francisco Javier Dominguez-Rivera, 22, of Puebla, Mexico.

Initially, the case was assigned to Justice of the Peace Alma Vildosola in Douglas, Ariz. Agent Corbett’s attorney, Daniel Santander, exercised his one-time right to file notice for a change of judges without comment. Justice Morales is the presiding justice of the peace in Cochise County, Ariz.

Mr. Dominguez-Rivera was killed during what the Border Patrol has described as a scuffle between the agent and as many as six other illegal aliens attempting to cross into the United States. The shooting occurred about 150 yards north of the border in an area about 100 miles southeast of Tucson, which has become a popular alien- and drug-smuggling corridor.

Agent Corbett told colleagues he feared for his life and used deadly force to keep the man from throwing a large rock at him.

Cochise County Attorney Ed Rheinheimer brought charges against the agent last month, based on what he said was an “extensive investigation” by the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department.

“We must come to the unfortunate but inescapable conclusion that this shooting was not legally justified,” Mr. Rheinheimer said. “The evidence shows that at the time he was shot, Mr. Dominguez-Rivera presented no threat to Agent Corbett and Agent Corbett did not act in reasonable apprehension of imminent death or serious physical injury.”

Mexican President Felipe Calderon has condemned the shooting, and the Mexican Embassy in Washington sent a diplomatic note to the State Department demanding an “exhaustive investigation.”

The Arizona chapter of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents all 11,000 of the agency’s nonsupervisory agents, said the Mexican Consulate in Douglas tainted the investigation by being allowed to interview some of the six witnesses to the shooting before U.S. investigators — an accusation denied by the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office and the Mexican Consulate.

Agent Brandon Judd, vice president of Local 2544, called the decision to bring charges part of a nationwide pattern of politically motivated prosecutions against Border Patrol agents.

He said the matching testimony of three of the witnesses had more to do with their blood ties and influence from the Mexican Consulate than with what actually happened.

The government’s witnesses include Mr. Dominguez-Rivera’s two brothers and a sister-in-law, who told investigators that Agent Corbett shot the Mexican national at close range while pushing him to the ground. The three are in Tucson, in the custody of the Mexican Consulate. Three others were sent back to Mexico.

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