- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 13, 2009



It is generally customary for United States attorneys general serving under a previous administration to submit their resignations to the incoming president. The first resignation President-elect Barack Obama should accept is that of Johnny Sutton, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas.

Mr. Sutton has a long friendship and working relationship with President Bush, as his associate deputy attorney general, a policy coordinator for the Bush-Cheney transition team and the criminal justice policy director for then-Gov. George W. Bush. Mr. Bush called him his “dear friend” at a July 19, 2007, town hall meeting in Nashville, Tenn. We recall Mr. Bush saying one of the mistakes he made in his first term was placing too much trust in and loyalty to his friends. If that is the case, his loyalty to Mr. Sutton - in the form of not offering pardons to Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean - is certainly a grave error of his second term.

Ramos and Compean are serving 11 years and 12 years respectively, in the shooting of Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila, an illegal alien and drug dealer, while he tried to flee back into Mexico to avoid arrest. Aldrete-Davila was the star witness in Mr. Sutton’s case. He told prosecutors that his narcotics trafficking at the time he was shot was a one-time thing to help pay his mother’s medical bills. He was later charged and convicted for smuggling drugs in a separate incident during Ramos and Compean’s trial, but Mr. Sutton and his team successfully petitioned the judge to have the drug dealer’s illegal actions sealed and kept from the jury.

Amazingly, Ramos and Compean weren’t exactly charged with shooting Aldrete-Davila. They were charged with violating Title 18, Section 924 (c) of the U.S. Code, “discharge of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.” The statute carries a minimum 10-year sentence. The gun charge was not part of their initial indictment, but was added later when it became clear Mr. Sutton and his team likely couldn’t get a conviction for two border guards shooting a fleeing drug smuggler, and after the two agents refused to admit guilt and take a plea bargain. This is the first time in U.S. history that such a charge has been levied against law enforcement officers while acting in an official capacity, but somehow Mr. Sutton made it stick.

Ramos and Compean have served two years already in solitary confinement - standard for convicted law enforcement officers. Ramos tried to serve his sentence in general population at the Federal Corrections Complex in Yazoo City, Miss., but was assaulted within 10 days. He was only moved to Phoenix, Ariz., after six months of pressure form Congress. Compean is held at the FCC in Elkton, Ohio. Supporters for the two told us that they have all but given up on a pardon and are now calling for a simple commutation of their sentences.

It is clear Mr. Sutton is a slick prosecutor - especially considering how he made this case stick even on appeal - but this conviction was a wretched one. Mr. Bush should pardon Ramos and Campean, despite any hurt feelings Mr. Sutton may harbor or good-old-boy ties the president has with this U.S. Attorney.

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