At the very worst, Ramos and Compean made a bad split-second decision and knowingly fired at an unarmed fleeing suspect -- and then covered it up. But to believe the worst, you have to believe the tort-happy smuggler's claim that he was not armed or carrying a cell phone.
T.J. Bonner, the chief of the Border Patrol agents' union, noted last week that if the three-judge panel affirms the appeal, Department of Justice prosecutors will have to decide to retry the case or let it go. "If they're smart, they will let it go, because if they don't, everything comes in."
President Bush now has the opportunity to commute the sentences of Ramos and Compean before the panel acts -- after two judges have signaled their dissatisfaction with the prosecution. A commutation would help Bush within and outside his conservative base. Not only have many GOP lawmakers asked for a pardon, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., also has joined them.
Bonner added that whether Bush "is going to swallow his stubborn pride remains to be seen."
Ramos and Compean have spent nearly a year in isolation in prison. If they had been corrupt agents who cut deals with human smugglers, they no doubt would have cut a deal for shorter sentences. Instead, they must spend 11 and 12 years away from their wives and children -- and among those whom they once apprehended. If they killed someone -- or if they were professional smugglers who could turn in other drug players -- they'd probably face shorter time.
President Bush should commute their sentences and get these men home for the holidays. Or he can punt and let federal judges do what should be done.