San Diego Union Tribune

July 18, 2007

Hearing discusses 2 border agents


WASHINGTON – Conservative House Republicans marched to the other side of Capitol Hill yesterday to campaign for the release of two Border Patrol agents imprisoned for shooting a drug trafficker who drove a van full of marijuana across the border into Texas.



Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, was among those who argued for the release of Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and José Compean while appearing as a witness before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing chaired by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

“I have never seen a case so compelling for a pardon or commutation,” Hunter told the panel.

He called the sentences – 11 years for Ramos and 12 for Compean – “the most severe justice” he had ever seen in the treatment of uniformed officers in federal service. Hunter has collected 100 House co-sponsors for a bill calling for pardons for the men, he said.

U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton – dubbed “Johnny Satan” by those who are outraged that his office offered immunity to the drug smuggler in return for testimony against the two agents – held his ground.

“(The agents) are not heroes. They deliberately shot an unarmed man in the back . . . and lied about it,” Sutton the senators.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, blaming the Bush administration, invoked the president's recent commutation of former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

“Scooter Libby can be set free, but two Border Patrol agents – their lives don't count a bit with this administration,” Rohrabacher said.

While the case has stirred a whirlwind of controversy, some facts are not in dispute.

In February 2005, Ramos and Compean pursued a Mexican man, Osvaldo Aldrete Davila, driving a van containing 743 pounds of marijuana back toward the border, where the van crashed and Aldrete tried to flee. The agents shot at him, wounding him in the buttocks.

Beyond that there is no consensus, although Sutton's team of prosecutors convinced a West Texas jury that the agents made up the story that they shot at Aldrete because they believed he was armed.

“All the evidence pointed the other way,” Sutton testified at yesterday's hearing.

He said the agents' supporters were attempting to distort the story.

The case went to trial after the agents turned down a plea agreement that would have sent them to prison for 18 to 24 months. Prosecutors then pursued a firearms charge under a federal statute that requires a 10-year minimum sentence.

At yesterday's hearing, some senators said they understood the need to prosecute the two agents, but none supported the use of the firearms charge, which they said Congress had mandated in an attempt to discourage drug traffickers from carrying weapons.

“I believe there's a lack of balance,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

Feinstein agreed, calling it a case of “overreaction in the charging.”

She joined other panel members in saying that Congress should take another look at the 10-year minimum.

Cox News Service contributed to this report.

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