As the final days of the Bush administration tick away, time may be running out for the president to pardon two U.S. Border Patrol agents imprisoned since 2007 in the shooting of a fleeing illegal alien drug runner.
Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo from Colorado has long led the fight to free agents Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos, who were both resentenced last week.
Tancredo is renewing demands that President George W. Bush grant a full pardon to the pair, while also looking forward to the mercies of the incoming president, according to a report in the Denver News.
In a Nov. 10 letter to President-elect Barack Obama, Tancredo wrote: “These are the kind of men whose government failed and destroyed them — all while they were serving a cause greater than themselves. These men deserve justice. I, and many other members of Congress, have repeatedly called upon President Bush to exercise his power to pardon — but he has not done so.”
Compean and Ramos were arrested following a shooting incident along the Rio Grande River in Texas on Feb. 17, 2005.
Mexican national Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila entered the country illegally in a van carrying 743 pounds of marijuana. When the two agents confronted him, he scuffled with them and tried to flee back across the border. The agents opened fire. Aldrete-Davila was struck in the buttocks, but continued to flee.
It is illegal for federal agents to fire upon fleeing felons or suspects. The agents later said they saw a shiny object in Aldrete-Davila's hand they thought was a gun.
After a two-week jury trial, Ramos and Compean were convicted in March 2006 in federal court in El Paso on several charges, including assault with a deadly weapon, obstruction of justice — for failing to report the incident properly — and a civil rights violation. The agents were acquitted of the most serious offense, assault with intent to commit murder.
In October 2006, Ramos, who was nominated to be Border Patrol Agent of the Year, was sentenced to 11 years and one day in prison, and Compean received a 12-year sentence.
Aldrete-Davila was again caught smuggling marijuana while he was waiting to testify against the agents.
In February 2007, a gang of illegal immigrants severely beat Ramos while he was in prison, and he and Compean were placed in solitary confinement for their own protection.
On Nov. 12, in a review of sentence required after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decided this year to drop one of the pair’s convictions, a federal judge in El Paso resentenced Compean to 10 years for using a firearm in the course of a felony and two years more for assault and other charges, according to a report in the Houston Chronicle.
The next day, Ramos was resentenced to the same 11-year prison sentence originally imposed on him, the El Paso Times reported.
Lawyers for Compean, however, announced after his sentencing hearing that they are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. Lawyers for Ramos may follow suit.
Seeking a hearing before the Supreme Court could be interpreted as the judicial system continuing its course, giving Bush an opening to pass on the controversial case to his successor.
So far, Obama has not signaled what he may do regarding the two agents.
Congressman Tancredo’s letter to Obama included this plea: “I respectfully urge you to use your power as president to take the immediate, appropriate and long overdue step of freeing them in your first two weeks in office, and see to it that agents Ramos and Compean spend President’s Day at home with their families — instead of sitting in solitary confinement in a federal prison because they had the temerity to do their job.”
The case for a pardon for the agents has also drawn support from Democrats.
In July 2007, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California chaired hearings of a Judiciary Committee panel on their imprisonment and joined several Republicans in saying that the jail terms were outrageous.
“That’s a huge penalty,” Feinstein declared. “More than most people serve for murder.”
Tancredo, in addition to pressing the incoming president, has been trying to shame the old one into action.
In his latest public pronouncements on the case, the Colorado legislator has pointed to Bush’s recent pardon of 15 criminals and the commutation of the sentence of an individual described as a convicted crack cocaine dealer.
Tancredo argues that it is reprehensible for the sitting president to allow the agents to sit in solitary confinement while showing mercy to drug dealers.
As a matter of federal regulation, the president not only may issue an outright pardon of a federal prisoner (or one who has already served his sentence) but also may elect to mitigate the sentence while not overriding the conviction itself.
As the saga continues, Tancredo also is working to persuade federal prison authorities to move the pair from maximum security to a minimum security facility.
Meanwhile, the federal prosecutor in the cases, U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, has gone on the record defending the government’s actions, according to the Denver News.
“Some in the media and on the Internet have tried to portray Agents Compean and Ramos as heroes, but that narrative is false,” Sutton said. “The actions of Compean and Ramos in shooting an unarmed, fleeing suspect, destroying evidence, and engaging in a coverup, are serious crimes.”
Sutton has always maintained that the agents knew that Aldrete-Davila was unarmed when they opened fire.
Aldrete-Davila, who was given immunity to return to the U.S. and testify against the agents, has since filed a lawsuit against the U.S. seeking damages based on the shooting, and been sentenced to prison on charges related to other drug smuggling attempts.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from California and another critic of the government’s handling of the case, said at a Judiciary Committee hearing in 2007: “The Ramos and Compean case is the worst miscarriage of justice that I have witnessed in the 30 years I’ve been in Washington.”
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