(CNSNews.com) – A federal judge left unchanged the decade-plus prison sentences for two Border Patrol agents convicted of shooting a Mexican drug smuggler in early 2005.
The ruling could be the final chapter of a controversial legal case that began along the Texas-Mexican border and erupted into a political and media firestorm.
The prosecutor in the case, U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton of the Western District of Texas, was satisfied with the outcome.
“It was a very righteous prosecution,” Sutton told CNSNews.com on Thursday. “The court of appeals and anyone who has looked at the facts has agreed with that. The only question, I think a legitimate question, is, ‘is the punishment too harsh?’ I have always said the punishment in this case was harsh, but it was a punishment set in place by Congress.”
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone was not unexpected, as the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the convictions of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean for assault with a deadly weapon, violation of civil rights, and discharging a firearm in the commission of a crime.
The appeals court did, however, reverse convictions against the two agents on five counts of tampering with evidence. Cardone ruled on Compean’s sentence Wednesday and on Ramos’ sentence Thursday.
Still, the charge of firing a deadly weapon during the commission of a crime carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years. The other counts against the agents carried concurrent sentences. This left the 11 years for Ramos and 12 years for Compean intact.
The case was the subject of congressional hearings and calls from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers for President George W. Bush to pardon or commute the agents’ sentences.
Many senators and House members called Sutton to task for bringing the discharge-of-a-weapon count. But Sutton defended the move.
“What happens is the trial prosecutors get together as a team and start looking at the evidence, and they will sometimes file superseding indictments that correspond to the investigation,” Sutton said.
“The (weapons charge) was filed before there was any discussion with any attorneys about plea bargains. When someone in the Senate says we just did this to be vindictive, that is not accurate. My prosecutors were adamant they did not do any plea negotiations. They just did that as a matter of course.”
The last avenue left is an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, while the defense has filed a formal application for commutation, said Tara Setmayer, press secretary for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), one of the leading advocates for the agents.
“Many patriotic Americans are dismayed by the continued persecution and legal torture of former Border Patrol officers Ramos and Compean,” Rohrabacher said in a statement.
“The legal establishment has obviously taken its directives from senior levels of the Bush administration. All decent Americans are now calling on President Bush to show some mercy towards these unjustly convicted men who never should have been prosecuted in the first place,” Rohrabacher added.
The drug smuggler who was shot, Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila, was given immunity to testify against the two agents. However, Aldrete-Davila was later convicted of subsequent drug smuggling offenses.
Sutton realizes that the border agents’ case has brought immense unwelcome publicity his way. However, he said he has always tried to do the right thing even if it was unpopular.
“My team has prosecuted over 43,000 felony defendants since I’ve been U.S. attorney,” said Sutton, who was named to the post in October 2001. “It is somewhat ironic that I’m known for this case and not for all the drug dealers and illegal aliens and crooked politicians and child predators that we put in prison. … All you can do is do your job, enforce the rule of law and stand up against the bullies.”