Border Patrol agents lose last appeal over shot smuggler

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The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans denied a request Thursday for a rehearing in an appeal by two U.S. Border Patrol agents who received lengthy prison terms for shooting a drug-smuggling suspect in the buttocks as he fled Texas into Mexico.

U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, whose office prosecuted the case, said the court’s ruling means that it will not hear any more arguments on the appeal, which was filed after agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean were found guilty of shooting Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila in February 2005. The shooting occurred after Aldrete-Davila ran from a van loaded with 743 pounds of marijuana near Fabens, Texas.

“I am pleased with today’s ruling, just as I was earlier this summer when a panel of the same court affirmed the convictions of the most serious charges against Mr. Compean and Mr. Ramos,” Mr. Sutton said.

“Today’s ruling validates what this office has been saying all along - this prosecution was about the rule of law, plain and simple,” he said.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who sought a presidential or congressional pardon for the agents, said the nation’s justice system “has once again failed agents Ramos and Compean.”

“These men, as well as their families, have suffered enough,” he told The Washington Times. “The only way this injustice can possibly be corrected is through a pardon or a commutation.”

The latest ruling means that the two agents will serve their prison sentences unless Mr. Bush pardons them or commutes their sentences. Ramos, 37, received an 11-year prison sentence, and Compean, 28, a 12-year sentence in October 2006.

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

In July, the appeals court ruled that the agents had been “properly convicted of substantive crimes,” saying the evidence presented at their trial “fully supports the jury verdict.” While the ruling 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.

The appeals court in July also noted that U.S. District Court Judge Kathleen Cardone in El Paso, Texas, did not violate the agents’ right to due process when she excluded evidence from the jury about the size of the marijuana load and Aldrete-Davila’s suspected involvement in a second drug-smuggling venture in October 2005.

Aldrete-Davila, 27, was arrested in November by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration 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.

In August, Aldrete-Davila was sentenced to 9 1/2 years in federal prison in the second case. The sentence was handed down by Judge Cardone.

The two Border Patrol agents were on patrol along the U.S.-Mexico border when, according to the appeals court panel, they chased “an alien drug smuggler driving a van as he speeded toward the Mexican border.” The court panel said that after the “drug smuggler” abandoned the van and began to run to the border, the agents gave chase and fired their weapons at him several times.

But after the chase, there was a “cover-up” that included a cleanup of the shooting site of spent shells and a failure by the agents to report they had fired their weapons - as “plainly required by well-established Border Patrol policies,” the court panel said.

Mr. Sutton said Thursday that those who criticized the prosecution in the case should “re-evaluate their position in light of the court record.”

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