- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2006

Two U.S. Border Patrol agents sentenced to lengthy prison terms for shooting a drug-smuggling suspect as he fled across the Rio Grande want a new trial, saying three jurors claim they were pressured into returning guilty verdicts.

Jose Alonso Compean, 28, and Ignacio Ramos, 37, were sentenced Oct. 19 by U.S. District Court Judge Kathleen Cardone in El Paso, Texas, to 12 and 11 years in prison, respectively, for causing serious bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon, discharge of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence and a civil rights violation.

A federal jury convicted the two men in March after a two-week trial, and Judge Cardone ordered them to report to prison Jan. 17.

Ramos’ El Paso-based attorney, Mary Stillinger, plans to appeal the case to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans based, in part, on sworn affidavits of three jurors — Robert Gourley, Claudia Torres and Edine Woods — who said they were incorrectly instructed that their verdict had to be unanimous and that the judge would not accept a hung jury.

“I don’t remember exactly what it was that made me change my vote to guilty on these charges, but I know I was very influenced by my belief, based on the other jurors statement, that we could not have a hung jury,” Ms. Woods said in her affidavit. “I think I might not have changed my vote to guilty if I had known that was an option.”

Mr. Gourley and Ms. Torres said they were told by the jury foreman that Judge Cardone would not accept a hung jury.

“I had no reason to doubt the foreman,” Mr. Gourley wrote.

Ms. Stillinger has argued that the jurors “essentially conceded their votes” when they saw they could not convince the majority otherwise, thinking “they did not have the option to stick to their guns and prevent a unanimous verdict.”

The defense attorney made the same argument to Judge Cardone before the sentencing, but she rejected it.

The government brought the charges after Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila, a Mexican national, was given immunity and agreed to testify against the agents in exchange for immunity after an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General.

The immunity deal protected Aldrete-Davila from being charged in this country as a drug smuggler. Ramos and Compean found 743 pounds of marijuana in the van he abandoned near the border.

Aldrete-Davila was shot after he illegally entered the United States near Fabens, Texas, and refused efforts by the agents to stop the van. Court records show he jumped from the vehicle and ran south to the Rio Grande, where he was confronted by Compean, who was knocked to the ground.

Although wounded, Aldrete-Davila managed to cross the border and escape in a waiting van.

In a case brought by U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, the government said the agents “shot an unarmed, fleeing suspect in the back and lied about it.” He said they “fired their weapons at a man who had attempted to surrender by holding his open hands in the air.”

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