Bipartisan Plea to Commute Sentence of Border Agents

Amanda Carpenter
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Posted: Jul 19, 2007 1:32 PM
Bipartisan Plea to Commute Sentence of Border Agents

Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.) and Sen. Dianna Feinstein (D.-Calif.) sent a letter to President Bush Wednesday asking him to commute the sentences of former U.S. Border Patrol Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean.

The agents were sentenced last year to 11 and 12 years in prison, respectively, for non-fatally wounding a Mexican national named Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila, who was smuggling 743 pounds of marijuana across the border. The agents fired shots at Davila after he refused to obey their commands to stop and was running away from them.

On July 18, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing, chaired by Feinstein instead in place of Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.), to examine the prosecution of the Ramos and Compean. In their letter to President Bush the next day, Feinstein and Leahy wrote, “That hearing confirmed the concerns raised by many members of the public: that this penalty levied on these Agents is excessive and that they deserve the immediate exercise of your Executive clemency powers.”

In the House, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R.-Calif.) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R.-Calif.) are sponsoring a resolution to issue a congressional pardon for the Agents. Hunter, who is running for the GOP’s nomination for President, said the sentencing was “the most severe injustice [he has] ever seen for a Border Patrol Agent or any other uniformed officer.” Their resolution has 100 cosponsors.

In an interview with CNS News, Rohrabacher said Feinstein’s support for a commutation was a “turning point in the battle for justice for Ramos and Compean.”

“When Sen. Feinstein, being a Democrat and such a powerful member of the Senate, gets involved, it is a signal to other Democrats that this is not a partisan issue on the part of Republicans, and it isn't about illegal immigration,” Rohrabacher said. “It's about justice for these two men."

The letter Cornyn and Feinstein sent to President Bush on July 18 is below:

Dear President Bush:

On October 19th of last year, former Border Patrol Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean were sentenced to 11 years and 1 day, and 12 years, respectively, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas for the events surrounding their attempt to apprehend a drug trafficker who was delivering 743 pounds of marijuana valued at $1.2 million.

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a fact-finding hearing on this case. That hearing confirmed the concerns raised by many members of the public: that this penalty levied on these Agents is excessive and that they deserve the immediate exercise of your Executive clemency powers.

We believe that this is a case of prosecutorial overreaching, and to allow Agents Ramos and Compean to serve over a decade in prison would represent a serious miscarriage of justice.

Apart from the legal issues pending on appeal, the hearing highlighted the many additional irregularities in this prosecution which warrant clemency, including:Aldrete-Davila, the star witness, was transporting an enormous quantity of drugs when Agents Ramos and Compean tried to apprehend him, Aldrete-Davila tried to flee from the border agents three times, got into a physical altercation with one of the agents and subsequently lied when first asked about the events;

Aldrete-Davila selectively provided information to prosecutors, and refused to reveal his drug source, and he even refused to provide the names of his friends who had considered forming a “hunting party” in Mexico to randomly shoot border patrol agents in revenge for his injuries. This was a direct breach of Aldrete-Davila’s immunity agreement and jeopardized the lives of front line border patrol agents.

Despite the fact that this incident occurred while Aldrete-Davila was transporting 743 pounds of marijuana, the prosecution gave him a border crossing pass that allowed him to enter the U.S. legally, without notifying U.S. authorities and without supervision;

There is evidence that while using this pass Aldrete-Davila entered the United States on 10 occasions in the eight months, and on at least one occasion he was wholly unsupervised;

There is evidence that during one of these crossings Aldrete-Davila entered the United States and again transported a large quantity of marijuana – perhaps as much as 750 pounds;

There is evidence that this second transportation of drugs occurred on the eve of his admission to a United States Military hospital for treatment that the prosecutor specially arranged. If true, this means he used his immunity to further harm the United States – yet nothing was done to revoke his immunity and prosecutors continued to treat him as a “victim”;

We know that the jury was barred from hearing any evidence about Aldrete-Davila’s second drug load and instead, the prosecutor was able to argue in closing statements that Aldrete-Davila had run from border agents just because he wanted to get home.

In addition, the prosecutors chose to charge the agents under 18 U.S.C. 924(c) despite the fact that such a charge carries a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence, despite the fact that an early evaluation of the case lead prosecutors to offer plea deals that would have produce much lower sentences, and despite the fact that Section 924(c) should be used as an enhancing charge against drug dealers and individuals who commit violent crimes;

The prosecutors brought 12 counts against Agents Ramos and Compean; there was not a need to add the 924(c) firearms offense.

These were Border Patrol Agents in good standing before this event, with no criminal records.

Finally, even U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton has conceded that concerns about the fairness of the sentence are legitimate.

Given these facts, we believe clemency is warranted for Agents Ramos and Compean. Agents Ramos and Compean have now been in prison for more than six months. Agent Ramos has been physically assaulted while serving his term and the Agents’ request to remain out of prison while their appeal was pending was denied by the Fifth Circuit. Both agents will remain incarcerated for many more months, even if their conviction is ultimately thrown out – unless action is taken quickly.

While this case has generated strong emotions on both sides, we do not believe that justice will be served by Agents Ramos and Compean spending over a decade in prison. We urge you to commute their prison sentences immediately.