Wednesday, September 23, 2015
AZMEX F&F EXTRA 23-9-15
AZMEX F&F EXTRA 23 SEP 2015
NOTE: " Since then, the Justice Department has focused on arresting and trying all suspects involved." Except those responsible.
Prosecutors: DNA ties 2 men to scene of border agent's death
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September 23, 2015 @ 1:43 am (Updated @ 14:00 AZ time)
FILE - In this Jan. 25, 2011, file photo, part of a cache of seized weapons displayed at a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ATF news conference in Phoenix. Two men charged with murder in the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent that revealed the bungled gun-smuggling investigation known as Fast and Furious go on trial Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — DNA and fingerprint evidence proves two men charged with murder in the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent were at the scene of the crime, prosecutors said Wednesday in the case that revealed the bungled federal gun-smuggling investigation known as Fast and Furious.
The men were charged in the 2010 killing of Brian Terry during the sting operation in which federal agents allowed criminals to buy guns with the intention of tracking them. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives lost track of 1,400 of the 2,000 guns involved in the operation, including two weapons found at the scene of Terry's killing.
Opening statements began Wednesday in the trial of Jesus Leonel Sanchez-Meza, also known as Lionel Portillo-Meza, and Ivan Soto-Barraza. They are the first suspects in Terry's death to face trial. Two others have already pleaded guilty, and another two remain fugitives.
The judge has excluded any information about the failed operation during the case. It will instead focus on the actions of the men that night.
Prosecutor Todd Wallace Robinson described the encounter between Terry and three other agents who had been camping in an Arizona canyon for two nights along the border. The agents, part of an elite Border Patrol squad, were on a mission to find so-called rip-off crews, or men who rob marijuana smugglers.
Robinson said DNA pulled from water bottles and sweaters left behind by the robbers are matches to Sanchez-Meza and Soto-Barraza and that the men confessed after being found in Mexico several years later to having been part of the crew.
"All five members of the rip crew were carrying weapons and they were carrying them for one purpose and one purpose alone, and it was to rob smugglers," Robinson said.
But defense attorney Ramiro Flores said the agents deployed their bean-bag shotguns first, and that three of the men ran away.
"Someone triggered that firefight and it wasn't these individuals here," Flores said.
Flores said he would touch on the Border Patrol's use-of-force policy during the trial. The Border Patrol has come under heavy criticism in recent years over allegations that agents too often use deadly force against immigrants, often in response to migrants who throw rocks.
"In the end, this is not as simple as a robbery gone wrong," he said.
Sanchez-Meza and Soto-Barraza face charges of first-degree and second-degree murder, assault on a federal officer, conspiracy to commit robbery, attempted interference with commerce by robbery and carrying a firearm during a crime of violence.
Terry's death brought to light the Fast and Furious operation, which quickly became a hot political issue in Washington. Republicans sought to hold the Obama administration accountable over the operation, conducting a series of inquiries into the how the Justice Department allowed guns to end up in the hands of smugglers.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder was held in contempt after he refused to divulge documents for a congressional investigation into the matter. Since then, the Justice Department has focused on arresting and trying all suspects involved.
Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, one of the men present but likely not the shooter, has been sentenced in the killing. He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced in February 2014 to 30 years in prison.
Rosario Rafael Burboa-Alvarez, accused of assembling the armed crew that was supposed to steal marijuana from smugglers when they encountered Terry and other agents, struck a plea deal with federal prosecutors last month that will likely result in a 30-year prison sentence, with credit for time served. He will be sentenced in October.
Two other suspects are still on the loose.