Jury deliberates in trial over border agent's killing

AP News
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Posted: Sep 30, 2015 8:06 PM

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — The trial of two men in the killing of a Border Patrol agent during a 2010 shootout in the Arizona desert wound down in federal court on Wednesday.

A jury began deliberations after prosecutors and the defense made their closing statements in federal court in Tucson. The defense rested its case earlier in the day without calling any witnesses.

Jesus Leonel Sanchez-Meza, also known as Lionel Portillo-Meza, and Ivan Soto-Barraza are charged with belonging to a "rip crew" that was planning to rob drug smugglers when they encountered Brian Terry and other agents. A gunfight ensued and Terry was killed.

Prosecutor Todd Wallace Robinson told jurors that DNA and fingerprint evidence, along with confessions from both defendants, prove they are guilty on all nine counts, including first-degree murder.

"It doesn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt. It proves it beyond any doubt whatsoever," Robinson said in a closing statement.

Defense attorney Ramiro Flores said in his closing that the defendants were acting in self-defense and that they did not initiate the firefight. He criticized the agents' tactics, questioning why agents were so far from the rip crew when their goal was to arrest them and why they provided conflicting testimony about the timeline of events.

"They are all saying different things about the announcement, about the shooting, about how these individuals carried their rifles," Flores said.

Robinson, in his rebuttal, called Flores' claims "nothing short of absurd."

The two defendants were the first to go on trial in the killing of Terry, whose death brought to light the bungled federal operation known as Fast and Furious that allowed criminals to buy weapons that federal authorities intended to track.

Instead, federal agents lost about 1,400 guns, including two found at the scene of Terry's killing.

Terry was part of a four-man Border Patrol team from an elite tactical unit that went to the area to arrest rip crew members. The team was set to be relieved an hour after the shooting occurred.

The gunfight began when an agent yelled "policia!" at the men and they refused to stop. An agent then fired bean bags, which are not deadly, and members of the rip crew began firing from assault rifles, authorities said.

Terry never had a chance to fire. He died of a gunshot wound that entered through his back.

Republicans sought to hold the Obama administration accountable over the Fast and Furious operation, conducting a series of inquiries into the how the U.S. Justice Department allowed guns to end up in the hands of criminals.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder was held in contempt after he refused to divulge documents for a congressional investigation into the matter. Since then, the Justice Department has focused on arresting and trying all suspects involved. The Terry family, which has been present throughout the trial in Tucson, says it wants ATF officials who orchestrated the sting to be prosecuted in the agent's death.

The judge ruled before the trial started that information about the operation would be excluded from testimony.

Two other men charged in the case — including a man who assembled the crew but who was not present that night — have pleaded guilty. Two others are fugitives.