Thursday, January 18, 2007

Two former U.S. Border Patrol agents surrendered yesterday to begin prison sentences for shooting a drug-smuggling suspect in the buttocks after he assaulted one of them, dumped nearly 800 pounds of marijuana along the Rio Grande and then fled into Mexico.

Ignacio Ramos, 37, and Jose Alonso Compean, 28, said goodbye to their wives and six children — three each — as they turned themselves over to U.S. Marshals shortly after 1:30 p.m. at the federal courthouse in El Paso, Texas, to begin 11- and 12-year sentences, respectively.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the California Republican who has been at the forefront of efforts to have the prosecution reviewed and the agents re-tried, yesterday criticized the White House for not acting in the case.

“This is the worst betrayal of American defenders I have ever seen,” Mr. Rohrabacher said of President Bush. “It’s shameful this was done by someone who is in the Republican Party. He obviously thinks more about his agreements with Mexico than the lives of American people and backing up his defenders.

“Our border agents risk their lives daily to uphold our immigration laws and defend our borders,” he said. “If the conviction of Ramos and Compean is an indication of how our government will repay them, we can be certain good men and women will soon flee the ranks of Border Patrol service.”

Ramos, a 10-year Border Patrol veteran and former “Agent of the Year” nominee, and Compean, a five-year member of the agency, were sentenced in October in federal court in El Paso on charges of 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.

The conviction came after the smuggling suspect, Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila, was located in Mexico by Department of Homeland Security investigators and was given immunity by U.S. prosecutors against any drug charges in exchange for his testimony against the agents.

“How will my children cope with this?” Patty Compean asked reporters as her husband prepared to turn himself over to federal authorities. “My husband is a good man and a good father. Sometimes I just don’t know how this all happened.”

The White House refused last week a request by Republican House members to keep the two men out of prison pending their appeal. Bush spokesman Tony Snow said that the case against the agents had been mischaracterized, that they had violated regulations and that they had been convicted by a jury.

The two men surrendered after U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone, who heard the case, denied a motion that they remain free on bond pending an appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans for a new trial.

“Because defendant has been convicted of a crime of violence, he is eligible for release pending appeal only for exceptional reasons,” Judge Cardone said in denying the motion. “The court finds that no exceptional reasons exist in this case.”

Both men were handcuffed and taken to the county jail for two weeks to a month until they can be transported to their assigned federal prisons. Ramos is expected to be housed in Mississippi, while Compean will be incarcerated in Ohio.

Last month, Mr. Rohrabacher announced a petition drive calling for the commutation of the sentences. His spokeswoman, Tara Setmayer, said that more than 252,000 signatures were collected and that the petition was presented this week to the White House.

The immunity agreement protected Aldrete-Davila from being charged in the United States with drug smuggling. Ramos and Compean found 743 pounds of marijuana in the van he abandoned near the Rio Grande along the border with Mexico.

Aldrete-Davila was shot after he illegally entered the United States near Fabens, Texas, and refused efforts by the agents to stop his vehicle. Court records show he jumped from his van 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.

The government’s prosecution began after an investigator from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General located Aldrete-Davila in Mexico. The investigator had been dispatched after the suspect’s mother complained to a Border Patrol agent in Arizona that her son had been shot.

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