A Mexican national who pleaded guilty in the fatal shooting of a U.S. Border Patrol agent — whose 2010 death led to a congressional probe of the botched “Fast and Furious” gunrunning operation — was part of a group of five Mexicans armed with semiautomatic assault rifles who were “patrolling” north of the U.S.-Mexico border with the intent to “intentionally and forcibly assault” U.S. border agents.
The intent of the five Mexicans is outlined in a previously sealed federal indictment describing the killing of Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry, who was gunned down Dec. 14, 2010, in the rugged desert area of Peck Canyon north of Nogales, Ariz.
The indictment said the Mexicans were hunting for border agents near a desert watering hole known as Mesquite Seep just north of the Arizona-Mexico border when a firefight erupted shortly before midnight and Terry was killed. At least two of the Mexicans carried their assault rifles “at the ready position,” one of several details about the attack showing that Mexican smugglers are becoming more aggressive on the U.S. side of the border.
According to the indictment, the Mexicans were “patrolling the area in single-file formation” a dozen miles northwest of the border and opened fire on four Border Patrol agents after the agents had identified themselves in Spanish as police officers.
Manuel Osorio-Arellanes pleaded guilty in the killing on Oct. 30, admitting in court he was part of a “rip-off” crew that sought to rob marijuana smugglers. He was wounded during the gunfight and has been held in custody since the shooting. He told prosecutors that while he raised his weapon at the agents, he did not shoot any of them.
His sentencing is scheduled Jan. 11 before U.S. District Judge David Bury in Arizona. Prosecutors have agreed not to seek the death penalty, but Osorio-Arellanes faces life in prison for the first-degree murder conviction.
Two AK-47 assault rifles found at the scene of the killing came from the failed Fast and Furious operation.
An affidavit in the case by FBI agent Scott Hunter said when the Mexicans did not drop their weapons as ordered, two agents used their shotguns to fire “less than lethal” beanbags at them. At least one of the Mexicans opened fire and, according to the affidavit, Terry, a 40-year-old former U.S. Marine, was shot in the back.
A Border Patrol shooting-incident report said Terry called out, “I’m hit,” and then fell to the ground, a bullet having pierced his aorta. “I can’t feel my legs,” Terry told one of the agents who cradled him. “I think I’m paralyzed.” Bleeding profusely, he died at the scene.
After the initial shots, two agents returned fire, hitting Osorio-Arellanes, 33, in the abdomen and leg. The others fled. The FBI affidavit said Osorio-Arellanes admitted during an interview that all five of the Mexicans were armed. Peck Canyon is a notorious drug-smuggling corridor.
The indictment initially named Osorio-Arellanes on a charge of second-degree murder, but did not identify him as the likely shooter, saying only that he and others “did unlawfully kill with malice aforethought United States Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry while Agent Terry was engaged in … his official duties.”
A second Mexican suspected in the case, Jesus Leonel Sanchez-Meza, was arrested by Mexican police in Puerto Penasco, Sonora in September. Three other suspects, Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga, Ivan Soto-Barraza and Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes are fugitives. The U.S. government has offered a $1 million reward for information leading to their capture.
In the Terry killing, two Romanian-made AK-47 assault rifles found at the scene were identified as having been purchased in a Glendale, Ariz., gun shop as part of the Fast and Furious investigation.
More than 250 incursions by Mexican military personnel into the United States have been documented in the past several years. The Border Patrol has warned agents in Arizona that many of the intruders were “trained to escape, evade and counter-ambush” if detected. The agency cautioned agents to keep “a low profile,” to use “cover and concealment” in approaching the Mexican units, to employ “shadows and camouflage” to conceal themselves and to “stay as quiet as possible.”
Several of the incursions occurred in the same area where Terry was killed, including a 2005 incident in which two agents were wounded by assailants dressed in black commando-type clothing in what law enforcement authorities said was a planned ambush. More than 50 rounds were fired at the agents after they spotted the gunmen.