Maybe the answer is: not. T.J. Bonner, president of the agents' union, the National Border Patrol Council, believes this prosecution will discourage agents from doing their jobs. Worse, the agents go to jail, while the smuggler got immunity -- and an incentive ($5 million) to claim he was unarmed, which can't be verified, because he fled.
Last week, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the case, as she fears this prosecution may represent "a serious miscarriage of justice." It does.
Sutton's office cannot comment on the case until sentencing, but referred me to a statement, that explains, "They were prosecuted because they had fired their weapons at a man who had attempted to surrender, but, while his open hands were held in the air, Agent Compean attempted to hit the man with the butt of his shotgun." Later, the agents picked up shell casings and failed to file a gunfire report.
Sutton's best point: A jury found the two agents guilty of all charges except attempted murder. As Bonner sees it, the most punishment the agents deserve is a five-day suspension for not reporting the shooting. Say, for argument's sake, that the agents were wrong to shoot at Aldrete-Davila. They were wrong to not file a report. Discipline them. Fire them, even. But don't send them to prison for decades for a bad split-second decision and failure to file a report.
If they were crooks, they would serve shorter time. Last month, a Border Patrol agent, who admitted to smuggling 100 illegal immigrants while he served on the Border Patrol, got five years. (Prosecutors had recommended three years, but in San Diego, U.S. District Judge John Houston hiked the sentence, telling the man: "You violated the sacred trust of your comrades. As a link in the chain, they depended on you.")
Compean's attorney, Maria Ramirez, told me that her client, a first-generation American, served honorably in the U.S. Navy, then worked for the Border Patrol. He had a home, now sold, a wife and two children. Another child is on the way. But in the 15 minutes after the agents saw that van, after one split-second judgment call, his life melted away: "In 15 minutes it's gone, just gone."