Saturday, May 7, 2011

Suspects indicted in Ariz. border patrol agent's death

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Three border-banditry suspects have been indicted in the murder of a U.S. agent who was shot during a late-night firefight near Rio Rico five months ago.

Manuel Osorio-Arellanes of El Fuerte, in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, and two unidentified co-defendants face 14 counts for second-degree murder, conspiracy and other offenses in connection with a Dec. 15 gunbattle that took the life of Agent Brian Terry, 40.

The shootout began when Border Patrol agents confronted a "rip crew," criminals who prey on smugglers and undocumented immigrants entering the United States. Terry was a member of the agency's elite BORTAC unit, a tactical squad assigned to combat violent robberies in the area.

Osorio-Arellanes, wounded during the shootout, was the only suspect captured. The names of two other defendants are sealed because they have not been apprehended.

"Today's indictment is an important step in this case," U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke said. "But it is only a first step to serving justice on behalf of Agent Terry and his family. This is an active, ongoing investigation that is making more and more progress every day."

Three other men rounded up after the shootout were cleared in Terry's death and pleaded guilty to illegal entry into the U.S. Their sentences were limited to time served behind bars and an order of deportation.

Terry's death was among several events that spawned increased criticism of border security during the past year. The killing also served as catalyst for controversy over the federal government's efforts to combat gun-smuggling into Mexico.

For five years, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has conducted an enforcement campaign to stop the flow of U.S. firearms to Mexican drug cartels.

After Terry was shot, two AK-47 rifles found at the scene were traced to purchases from an Arizona gun store that was being monitored by ATF in an investigation known as Operation Fast and Furious.

Several dozen so-called straw buyers have been indicted in that case, accused of buying firearms from Arizona dealers and shipping them to narcotics cartels in Mexico.

As part of that investigation, federal whistle-blowers allege that the Department of Justice allowed hundreds of guns to be "walked south" in the hope of tracking them to Mexican kingpins.

ATF and Justice Department officials acknowledge that some weapons from Operation Fast and Furious crossed the border.

However, they say that took place either before suspects were placed under surveillance or after suspects managed to evade surveillance.

They insist that investigators never purposely allowed firearms to reach the drug syndicates.

The controversy has prompted congressional inquiries by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who point to the Terry shooting as an example of how guns from Operation Fast and Furious are being used against U.S. law enforcement.

Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, confronted Attorney General Eric Holder at a hearing last week, saying, "The Justice Department is basically guilty of allowing weapons to kill Americans and Mexicans."

Holder answered that placing blame for Terry's death on the Justice Department was "offensive."

Meanwhile, if Ososrio-Arellanes goes to trial, prosecutors will have to sort out confusing nighttime events in a remote canyon northwest of Nogales. Osorio-Arellanes told investigators he was merely an illegal immigrant who got caught in the gunfight.

Robbie Sherwood, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Phoenix, said the defendant was arraigned Friday at the U.S. District Court in Tucson, where he pleaded not guilty through his attorney. The trial is tentatively set for June 17.

Burke said Terry, a former Marine, "made the ultimate sacrifice in service to the people of the United States. His family deserves to see justice served, and everybody involved in this investigation is deeply committed to making that happen."

Wagner also reports for the Arizona Republic

Posted | Updated

Powered By | Full Text RSS Feed | Amazon Plugin | Hud Settlement Statement

View the original article here


Post a Comment