OC Register: "O.C. reacts to appeals court ruling on jailed ex-border agents' convictions"

Jul 29, 2008
Articles

Washington, Jul 29, 2008 - Orange County residents expressed shock and dismay at the news that two former U.S. Border Patrol agents jailed for shooting an illegal immigrant drug runner at the border will not go free.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans on Monday upheld a jury verdict convicting Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos to 11 and 12 years in jail, respectively. The men were convicted in 2006 of the shooting and have been imprisoned since.

“It's unconscionable,” said Barbara Coe, who leads the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, an anti-illegal immigration group.

“I think it very clearly reveals that our own government is dedicated to the well-being of the illegal alien drug smugglers and has no concern for the border patrol agents who put their lives on the line every day to protect our lives.”

For Compean's sister Claudia Martinez, of Huntington Beach, Monday was a particularly dark day.

“It was a shock to all of us,” Martinez said Tuesday. “This was really the hope that I had that he would be coming home soon.”

And for a group of Republican lawmakers who have been railing against the fact that the Justice Department brought these charges in the first place, the decision was a “shock,” they said, and one they promised to keep trying to get overturned.

“I am dismayed as a patriot that two men who put their lives on the line, on the border of our country to protect us have been abandoned by the legal system,'' said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, who held a news conference in his office this afternoon.

“This can be reversed if the President of the United States will do the right thing and pardon these two border patrol agents,'' said Rep. Ed Royce, R-Fullerton. Royce said President Bush has said he wanted the legal system to work its will in this case. Now is the time, Royce said in an interview before the news conference, for Bush to stop being “bullheaded” and “stubborn'' and pardon the two ex-agents.

The defendants have three legal options, according to Laurie Levenson, professor of criminal law at Loyola Law School. They could petition the panel to hear the case again, or ask the full 5 5th Circuit Court to listen to an appeal. Alternatively, the defendants could petition the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

However, that option is unlikely unless the Supreme Court decides the legal issues merit consideration.

"If it's just a question of whether they thought it was unfair to be convicted of this violation, it's not likely to get reviewed," Levenson said.

In 2005, Compean and Ramos were involved in pursuing a suspicious van along the U.S.-Mexico border near El Paso. The driver left the van – which contained 750 pounds of marijuana – and tried to flee. The agents fired shots but the driver got away on foot and crossed back into Mexico. One of the agents' bullets hit the driver's left buttock.

The agents were charged with assault with serious bodily injury, violating the drug smuggler's civil rights, use of a firearm in a crime and obstruction of justice. Prosecutors said that the agents shot an unarmed man in the back and then tried to cover up the shooting. The agents contended that the smuggler was armed.

The drug smuggler sued the Border Patrol for $5 million for violating his civil rights. He became the chief witness for the prosecution.

In addition to upholding the prison sentence, the three-judge court Monday vacated the agents' conviction for tampering with a proceeding.

“I can tell you with no doubt in my mind that my brother would not have shot his weapon unless his life was in danger,” Martinez said.

Both Compean and Ramos had served in the Navy.

“He was dedicated to his country,” Martinez said, “and this is how they repaid him.”

“It is a grave miscarriage of justice,” said Chelene Nightingale, of Save Our State, an anti-illegal immigration activist group. “How does a drug smuggler get so much word in our country?”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has held a hearing on the case, said in a statement that she is “very disappointed in the 5th Circuit's ruling. The sentences meted out to these two border patrol agents are much longer than sentences given to many who commit homicide.”

Rohrabacher said during the news conference that at the very least, Bush should move the two agents from their solitary confinement as the legal proceedings continue.

Rohrabacher said he has reached out to John McCain's campaign to see if the GOP standard bearer feels differently about this case than Bush. So far he has not gotten a reply.

That's one of the reasons, he said, that he has not “endorsed” McCain. Rohrabacher has only said he will support the GOP nominee for president

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Original Article: OC Register