- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A U.S. Border Patrol agent has been charged with murder in the January fatal shooting of a Mexican national while trying to apprehend several illegal aliens near Naco, Ariz.

Cochise County, Ariz., Attorney Ed Rheinheimer yesterday confirmed he has brought charges against Agent Nicholas Corbett, accusing him of first-degree and second-degree murder, manslaughter and negligent homicide in the Jan. 12 death of Francisco Javier Dominguez-Rivera, 22, of Puebla, Mexico.

“Based on the extensive investigation presented to this office by the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department, as well as the physical evidence itself, we must come to the unfortunate but inescapable conclusion that this shooting was not legally justified,” Mr. Rheinheimer said in a written statement.

“The evidence shows that at the time he was shot, Mr. Dominguez-Rivera presented no threat to agent Corbett and agent Corbett did not act in reasonable apprehension of imminent death or serious physical injury.”

Mr. Dominguez-Rivera was killed during what the Border Patrol has described as a scuffle between the agent and the illegals. The shooting occurred about 150 yards north of the border, in an area about 100 miles southeast of Tucson that has become a popular alien- and drug-smuggling corridor.

Mr. Corbett, 39, who has not been interviewed by investigators, told colleagues he feared for his life and used deadly force to keep the man from throwing a large rock at him.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon condemned the shooting and the Mexican Embassy in Washington sent a diplomatic note to the State Department demanding an “exhaustive investigation.”

The Arizona chapter of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents all 11,000 of the agency’s non-supervisory agents, said the Mexican Consulate in Douglas tainted the investigation by being allowed to interview some of the six witnesses to the shooting before U.S. investigators — an accusation denied by the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office and the Mexican Consulate.

Agent Brandon Judd, vice president of Local 2544, called the decision to bring charges part of a nationwide pattern of politically motivated prosecutions against Border Patrol agents. He said the matching testimony of three of the witnesses had more to do with their blood ties and influence from the Mexican Consulate than with what actually happened.

The witnesses included Mr. Dominguez-Rivera’s two brothers and a sister-in-law, who told investigators Mr. Corbett shot the Mexican national at close range while pushing him to the ground. The three are in Tucson, under the custody of the Mexican Consulate there. The three others were sent back to Mexico.

A video by a Border Patrol surveillance camera shows the fatal shooting from a distance, but the images are not clear. The county attorney’s office sent the video to the FBI for enhancement but has not received it back.

Mr. Judd said he had reviewed the 300 pages of reports from Mr. Rheinheimer’s investigation and had a “hard time” understanding how charges could have been warranted “unless, of course, this was politically motivated.”

“We will not abandon this agent in his greatest time of need,” Local 2544 said on its Web page. “When his side of the story comes out, we hope that people will see that he did nothing wrong. Please keep in mind that he hasn’t had the opportunity to tell his story yet.”

Mr. Rheinheimer, who said he worked with Border Patrol agents for 15 years and was “impressed” by their professionalism, said bringing charges in this case had “not been an easy decision to reach.” But, he said, prosecutors “must go where the evidence takes us and where Arizona law dictates.”

Mr. Corbett is scheduled for an initial court appearance this week before a judge who will determine whether he will be held or released on bond. A preliminary hearing will be scheduled within 20 days, where a judge will decide if there is enough evidence for a trial, and if so, on what charges.

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