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Hill letter urges Bush ‘review’ of jailed agents’ case

- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 31, 2008

Thirty-one members of Congress on Wednesday asked President Bush for an "immediate review" of the convictions of former Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, who were sentenced in 2006 to lengthy prison terms for shooting a drug-smuggling suspect in the buttocks as he fled back to Mexico.

"Should you be unwilling to pardon Agents Ramos and Compean, as some of us have advocated, we ask that you then consider commuting their sentences to time served," the Republican lawmakers said in a letter.

"Your intervention in this matter will not only serve to correct this injustice, but also help reverse the damage these convictions have caused to the men and women of the Border Patrol," the lawmakers said. "Once again, we respectfully request that you intervene on behalf of Agents Ramos and Compean, and remove them from federal custody."

Written by Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, the letter was signed by fellow Republican Reps. David Dreier, Dana Rohrabacher, Brian P. Bilbray, Ken Calvert, Ed Royce, John Campbell, John T. Doolittle, Howard P. "Buck" McKeon and Gary G. Miller of California; Trent Franks of Arizona; John L. Mica and C.W. Bill Young of Florida; Christopher H. Smith, Frank A. LoBiondo and H. James Saxton of New Jersey; Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee; John Carter, Ted Poe and John Culberson of Texas; Tom Tancredo and Doug Lamborn of Colorado; Phil Gingrey of Georgia; Steve King of Iowa; Walter B. Jones of North Carolina; John M. McHugh of New York; Frank R. Wolf and Virgil H. Goode Jr. of Virginia; Don Young of Alaska; Joseph R. Pitts of Pennsylvania; and Todd Akin of Missouri.

On Monday, a federal appeals court panel in New Orleans ruled unanimously that the agents were "properly convicted of substantive crimes," adding that the evidence presented at their trial "fully supports the jury verdict."

The ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel rejected a bid by the agents to have the convictions overturned.

While the panel vacated five minor counts in a 12-count indictment against the agents, it let stand seven other charges - including assault and the discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence, which resulted in 10-year mandatory sentences.

Ramos, 37, received an 11-year prison sentence, and Compean, 28, a 12-year sentence in the shooting of Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila in February 2005 when he was running from a van loaded with 743 pounds of marijuana near Fabens, Texas. The agents testified during their trial that they thought Mr. Aldrete-Davila had a weapon.

The court panel also said U.S. District Court Judge Kathleen Cardone in El Paso, Texas, who heard the case, acted within the law when she excluded evidence from the jury about the size of the marijuana load and Mr. Aldrete-Davila's suspected involvement in a second drug-smuggling venture in October 2005. The panel said the judge did not violate the agents' right to due process.

Mr. Aldrete-Davila, 27, was arrested in November by Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents in El Paso on a federal grand-jury indictment charging him with conspiracy and possession with the intent to distribute marijuana. The indictment said he brought a second load of 752 pounds of marijuana into the U.S. in October 2005, eight months after he had been shot by the agents.

The lawmakers argued that the 10-year mandatory sentences were "never intended" to apply to law-enforcement officers acting within their official duties. They called the charge "excessive and disproportionate to the violation, particularly when Agents Ramos and Compean were in pursuit of a known drug dealer and on duty at the time of the incident."

Additionally, they said the court panel failed to take into consideration the fact that the drug dealer was identified by DEA agents as he smuggled a second load of narcotics into the country.

They said this occurred after Mr. Aldrete-Davila was granted immunity for his first smuggling attempt in exchange for his testimony, but that information was withheld from the jury during trial and overlooked by the 5th Circuit. They said the omissions raised "serious doubts about his credibility and testimony."

The White House has said Mr. Bush would review pardon petitions on a case-by-case basis.