- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2007

AUSTIN, Texas — The case that catapulted him to national prominence was never about illegal aliens or efforts to better control the U.S.-Mexico border, U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton says.

“It was about the rule of law, about two people who did wrong and deserved to be in jail, about following the facts and getting those facts to a jury,” said Mr. Sutton, whose prosecution of U.S. Border Patrol Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean led to a bitter national debate.

“The jury heard the facts and agreed unanimously that the agents committed serious crimes,” he said. “The jury asked the question, ‘Was their behavior reasonable?’ and concluded that it wasn’t.”

But more than 400,000 people who signed petitions demanding a presidential pardon for the agents disagreed. So did several members of Congress: One accusing Mr. Sutton of being “on the wrong side of the border war,” another calling the case the “worst betrayal of American defenders I have ever seen,” and one saying it was a “grotesque misdirection of our judicial system.”

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and a presidential candidate, introduced a bill, co-sponsored by more than 100 House members, calling for congressional pardons. He said their prosecution was “the most severe injustice I’ve ever seen with respect to the treatment of U.S. Border Patrol agents or, I might add, the treatment of any uniformed officers.”

National Border Patrol Council President T.J. Bonner, who represents the agency’s 11,000 nonsupervisory personnel, called for Mr. Sutton’s “immediate removal from office.”

In July, during a rancorous Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, questioned if the government’s priorities were “out of whack” when Mr. Sutton’s office gave immunity to Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila, whom she called a “drug trafficker,” to testify against the agents.

In October, Ramos, 37, and Compean, 28, were sentenced to 11 and 12 years in prison, respectively. They said they shot Aldrete-Davila in the buttocks as he fled into Mexico because they thought he was armed.

Although many have demanded Mr. Sutton’s resignation, the White House has vigorously supported him — saying while authorities should go after drug dealers and ensure the border is secure, “we also believe the people who are working to secure that border themselves obey the law.”

Mr. Sutton is a longtime ally of President Bush, having served as his criminal-policy director when he was the governor of Texas. He worked directly under Alberto R. Gonzales, who was the then-governor’s general counsel. Mr. Gonzales, who resigned this week as U.S. attorney general, vigorously and publicly supported Mr. Sutton when the Ramos-Compean controversy began.

While much of the public and congressional outrage has gone away, Mr. Sutton continues to be a favorite Internet target. But, he said, “I have faced the criticism head-on and certainly can’t be accused of hiding under my desk.

“If the accusations were true that two American heroes were sent to prison for doing their jobs, I would be outraged myself,” he said during an interview in his 10th-floor office overlooking the Texas Capitol. “But those are not the facts.

“They are not heroes. They deliberately shot an unarmed man in the back without justification, destroyed evidence to cover it up and lied about it,” he said.

Mr. Sutton said “a few folks in the media didn’t do their research and got the story wrong” and that contrary to the “drumbeat of talk radio,” the case was not about border issues, but about agents who unlawfully resorted to deadly force. He said the agents “told their stories from the witness stand, including their claims of self-defense, but the jury did not believe them.”

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