A federal judge this week said U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton's office may have "overreacted" in its prosecution of Border Patrol Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean.
On Monday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit heard oral arguments in the border agents' case. Ramos and Compean have served nearly one year of their 11- and 12-year sentences respectively for issues surrounding the shooting of a fleeing illegal alien drug smuggler, Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila, in February 2005.
"For some reason, this one got out of hand, it appears to me," stated Judge E. Grady Jolly during the arguments. According to the Associated Press, Jolly went further by adding, "'It does seem to me like the government overreacted here,' ... noting the severity of the charges and the lengthy sentences prosecutors sought, as he questioned Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Stelmach."
In addition, the U.S. government admitted during the hearing that Aldrete-Davila, the government's star witness against Ramos and Compean, lied under oath. "He told some lies on the stand," said Stelmach, responding to questions from the panel of judges.
Aldrete-Davila was given immunity from his crimes, taxpayer-funded medical treatment and a "humanitarian visa" to cross the border as he pleased in return for his testimony against the two border agents.
Last week, we reported that Aldrete-Davila was indicted and arrested on charges involving the smuggling of more than 750 pounds of marijuana into the United States. The load of drugs that is the subject of those charges is separate from the similar-size load Aldrete-Davila smuggled during the incident involving Agents Ramos and Compean.
Critics of the prosecution, including the Center for Individual Freedom, have long questioned why that second drug load was suppressed as evidence during the original trial of the agents - a point that apparently wasn't lost on another one of the judges on the three-judge panel.
According to an article published on WorldNetDaily.com following the hearing, "Judge Patrick Errol Higginbotham questioned Stelmach closely about why the prosecution had sought to seal from the jury information about a second smuggling attempt by Aldrete-Davila." Despite Stelmach's argument that such information was irrelevant, the judge disagreed as he suggested it showed Aldrete-Davila had a brazen disregard for the law, which goes to the credibility of his testimony.
"It defies common sense in the street world to believe Aldrete-Davila was a poor mule, as he represented at trial, instead of an actual player in the world of drug cartels," Higginbotham told the government attorney.
In a statement released following the hearing, U.S. Attorney Sutton defended his office's prosecution of the case.
"This case has always been about the rule of law," the statement reads. "Some in the media and on the Internet have tried to portray agents Compean and Ramos as heroes, but that narrative is false. ..."
"They were prosecuted to uphold the rule of law," Sutton continued. "A jury rejected their factual claims of innocence after a two week trial. The case is now before the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which will resolve the disputed legal issues in accordance with the rule of law. I look forward to the decision of the Court of Appeals," concluded Sutton.
Claiming that giving "a player in the world of drug cartels" immunity and a free border pass in return for his testimony against Agents Ramos and Compean is about the rule of law is beyond us. Especially when you consider that Sutton's office relied almost solely on what it now admits to be the perjured testimony of a career illegal alien drug smuggler.
The three-judge panel is expected to issue its ruling within 60 day.
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