Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) – House members who want the release of two ex-Border Patrol agents sentenced to more than a decade in prison for shooting a Mexican drug smuggler tried a new tactic to push for clemency in the final days of the Bush administration.
On Wednesday, they called on U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, the federal prosecutor who Bush called a “dear friend,” to recommend that Bush grant commutation.
“I believe the reason the president dug his heels in is because he wants to stand by his man,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) told CNSNews.com. “Well, his man believes these sentences are totally out of line.”
Sutton has staunchly defended the prosecution and conviction of former Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean for shooting illegal alien and drug smuggler Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila in the buttocks as he fled arrest in February 2005. They were convicted in 2006 and sentenced to 11 and 12 years, respectively.
In November, Sutton – who worked for Bush when the president was governor of Texas -- expressed confidence in the prosecution when he told CNSNews.com, “The only question, I think a legitimate question is, ‘Is the punishment too harsh?’ I have always said the punishment in this case was too harsh.”
In several other interviews, Sutton said the sentence might have been harsh, but blamed that on the mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for firing a weapon during the commission of a crime. Border agent defenders fault Sutton’s office for bringing the weapons charge.
Sutton has also called it a “righteous” prosecution. He has said that Ramos and Compean did not know Aldrete-Davila was smuggling drugs at the time they shot him. He also insists that Aldrete-Davila was unarmed. Ramos and Compean said during the trial they saw a shiny object in his hand that they thought was a gun.
The prosecution of the border agents sparked outrage on Capitol Hill as numerous Republicans and some Democrats called on Bush to either pardon or commute their sentences.
“This is a disproportionate sentence,” said Rep. William Delahunt (D-Mass), adding that the average sentence for manslaughter is three years. “The prosecutor in this case said these were harsh sentences. This is the president’s final opportunity to demonstrate compassion. This is his final opportunity to do it, and I hope he does do it.”
Shana Jones, a spokesperson from Sutton’s office, said Sutton would not comment on the matter.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto told CNSNews.com that the White House is not commenting on any clemency cases now.
Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) said, “even if you assume” the prosecution was proper, the firearms law that carried the mandatory 10-year-minimum sentence was not intended to apply to law enforcement officers.
“There was almost a lynch mob mentality to get these agents,” Bilbray said. “The time served is enough.”
Bilbray added that most Americans would not mind living next to Ramos and Compean.
“What benefit does it do for the American people for these men to remain in prison for over a decade?” Bilbray said.
Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) recalled that he received a Christmas card from the former border agents’ families. To him, it was a reminder that the wives and children spent another holiday season without their fathers.
“Mr. President, you have a few days left,” Jones said. “You are a man of faith. I urge you to get down on your knees and ask the Lord if you should commute the sentences of these men, because I believe he would tell you yes.”