A federal appeals court has ruled that two U.S. Border Patrol agents convicted of shooting an unarmed illegal immigrant and lying about it will remain in prison and finish their sentences.
In December 2007, AMW Correspondent Jon Leiberman was in the courtroom as the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans heard arguments from lawyers for agents Ignacio "Nacho" Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean, urging the panel to vacate their prison terms.
Ramos and Compean were convicted in 2006, and sentenced to 11 and 12 years in prison respectively. Both men claimed they shot at Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila -- an illegal immigrant and admitted drug smuggler -- in self defense.
Osvaldo Davila was the key witness in the case that put Border Patrol Agents Ramos and Compean behind bars, and after authorities admitted that Davila lied on the stand, it now appears Davila will head to prison himself for between six and ten years on charges of smuggling marijuana.
But on July 28, 2008, the appeals court vacated their convictions for tampering with an official proceeding, but the three-judge panel refused to reverse the convictions that resulted in their lengthy sentences.
Sources tell AMW that the pair plan another appeal.
For agents Compean and Ramos, February 17, 2005 was just another day of watching and waiting for illegal immigrants to cross the Rio Grande river into the United States.
But catching illegals was a piece of cake compared to their battle against the drug cartels who are better-armed and whose foot soldiers outnumber them. Over the last decade, agents have been involved in a growing number of gun battles with drug runners on the U.S. side of the border.
To say the least, the bad guys are getting more brazen and trigger-happy.
So far, at least four of the smugglers have been killed. Our guardians of the border have suffered no casualties. But for many of the agents, the fear remains: "Is this going to be my day? Will I make it home tonight?"
According to TJ Bonner, President of the National Border Patrol Council, that February night was like no other: Checking on a tripped sensor near the river, he says Agent Compean discovered footprints and drag marks, a tip-off that a load of drugs has just been smuggled across the river. Spotting a vehicle leaving the scene, Compean radioed the vehicle's description to agents covering the road ahead.
Realizing he's been spotted, the smuggler turned around and headed back toward Compean. According to Bonner, when the smuggler bailed out of his van to make a run for the river, he failed to obey Compean's numerous commands to stop.
After a brief physical struggle, the smuggler began running toward the river again.
According to Bonner, when the smuggler turned around and pointed something shiny at Compean, the agent -- believing his life is in danger -- opened fire. Agent Ramos, hearing gunshots, came to Compean's aid.
He, too, shouted for the smuggler to stop, but the man once again turned around and pointed at Ramos. Ramos fired one shot at the smuggler.
He appeared to miss, and his target turned and disappeared into the bank of the Rio Grande.
Border Patrol agents returned to the suspicious van and looked -- wide-eyed -- at almost 800 lbs. of marijuana, worth about $1 million on the street, lying in the cabin. Agents seized the payload, but a bizarre turn of events and an apparent miscarriage of justice would soon find Ramos and Compean on the wrong side of the law.
According to U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, Ramos and Compean are not heroes. Sutton filed a bevy of charges against the two, and thanks to an unexpected partnership, Compean and Ramos are now serving long prison sentences.
The man behind the wheel of the marijuana-packed van -- Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila -- was an illegal alien, and according to The New American magazine, an admitted felon and drug smuggler.
After the encounter, according to court testimony, Aldrete-Davila's family contacted a friend of the family, Rene Sanchez, a naturalized U.S. citizen and Border Patrol Agent, for advice.
Sanchez had to choose between his brothers in arms and a boyhood friend.
According to court testimony, Sanchez tutored Aldrete-Davila on getting back at Ramos and Compean, helping him obtain counsel and working out the best immunity deal he could.
It now fell to U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, who was forced to decide which story he believed. He chose to believe illegal alien Aldrete-Davila's account of that day, not the stories of agents Ramos and Compean.
According to his version of events, Aldrete-Davila did not have a gun and was shot while trying to escape two Border Patrol Agents whom he feared.
But according to TJ Bonner, the Army doctor who treated Aldrete-Davila (on the taxpayer's dime), that story doesn't hold water.
According to Bonner, the entrance wound was on the left side of Aldrete-Davilawas's left buttock, and the bullet was found in his right side. That entry wound is not consistent with someone fleeing. Rather, it looks like someone taking the "bladed stance," pointing a gun at someone.
The stance would come from someone firing a gun in his left hand. Bonner says Aldrete-Davila is, in fact, left-handed. Still, the prosecutor, described by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), as overzealous, continued to believe Aldrete-Davila's scenario.
On March 8, 2006, a federal jury convicted the two agents of assault with serious bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon, discharge of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence and civil rights violations.
But that verdict is in question as well.
According to the National Border Patrol Council, "Three of the 12 jurors later submitted sworn affidavits alleging that they had been misled into believing that there could be no dissent in the decision of the jury, and that the minority would have to accede to the will of the majority. Despite this cloud over the propriety of the process, the judge refused to overturn the verdict."
On January 17, 2007, both former agents walked into the U.S. Marshals Service office in El Paso, Texas to begin serving their time.
Aldrete-Davila, on the other hand, is now suing the U.S. government for $5 million in what amounts to a case of he said/they said.
On the one hand, opponents of the decision say, an illegal alien, on American soil, was driving a van, hauling about $1 million in drugs. On the other side are two experienced law enforcement officers.
The U.S. Attorney's Office contacted an AMW producer, offering to give their side of this story. While U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton reiterated his stance on the issue, he never answered the question of why he sided with Aldrete-Davila instead of Compean and Ramos.
The interview also contained conflicting information. At one point, when asked why Aldrete-Davila wasn't charged with any crime, Sutton says that because of Ramos' and Compean's actions, there was no evidence to charge the alleged drug smuggler. Yet, moments earlier, Sutton admitted that Aldrete-Davila's van was found with a large quantity of marijuana.
Family: Ramos Beaten By Prison Thugs...
On February 3, 2007, AMW brought the nation Ramos and Compean's emotional story for the first time. Shortly after the story aired, a group of prison thugs assaulted Ramos while he was resting in his cell in a federal penitentiary in Yazoo City, Miss.
After seeing the story, five fellow prisoners waited until Ramos fell asleep, then beat him badly, yelling, "Maten a la migra," which means, "Kill the border patrol agent" in Spanish. According to his family, he suffered wounds to his back, shoulder, arms and head.
After hearing of the agents' plight, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) issued a statement that criticized the White House for not protecting Ramos in prison.
"Not only did the administration choose the side of a foreign dope runner over the agents who stopped him from smuggling a load of drugs into the county, now they've failed to protect that agent while his case is on appeal," Rep. Tancredo said.
In a few short months, America's Most Wanted received thousands of phone calls and e-mails expressing sympathy for the agents.
A company called RapidResponse Media created a television ad to help put more pressure on the White House to pardon the men. But despite these nationwide efforts, and members of Congress pushing for the commutations of their sentences, they were absent from the President's list of holiday pardons at the end of 2007.
The creator of the ads, Demos Chrissos, told AMW about his motivation.
"These two television spots are a snapshot of the common sense outrage about what happened to agents Ramos and Compean," Chrissos said.
"This is truly a grassroots effort: people coming together on their own for a common cause to help these two agents," he said. "I made these spots not knowing where they would end up but then I saw what Grassfire.org was doing with their petition drive and I knew it would be a perfect fit."
Almost three years after the incident, drug runner Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila was finally indicted on charges of bringing marijuana into the country.
In a written statement, U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton's office said, "For more than a year, critics of the prosecution ... have complained that Aldrete, the fleeing, unarmed drug smuggler they shot, should have been prosecuted for drug smuggling. I have repeatedly said that if we obtain sufficient competent and admissible evidence against Aldrete, we would prosecute him."
When the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans heard the appeal from Ramos and Compean, which they ultimately partly rejected, one of the judges told the government, "For some reason, this case got out of hand. Maybe these officers should have gone away for a little while, but 10 years?"
"You succeeded in keeping away from the jury that your star witness kept dealing drugs," the judge said. At one point, a judge asked the prosecution, "Did [accused drug smuggler Osvaldo Aldrete] Davila violate the terms of his immunity agreement?"
And for the first time publicly, the government admitted that, "He told some lies."
U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton made a brief appearance in the courtroom, but snuck out the back door after the hearing and refused to meet with the media.
Outside the courthouse, Ignacio's wife Monica Ramos told AMW Correspondent Jon Leiberman that she felt a tremendous amount of hope that her husband will soon be home. This was a marked contrast from her comments last night when she expressed anxiety that the future of her family rested on what happened in court today.
Supporters of the agents joined in a small prayer circle in front of the courthouse before entering.
On July 28, 2008, the court held that the agents are to remain in prison anyway and finish their sentences. Spokespersons for the agents say they plan further appeals.
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