Judge casts doubt on evidence in border agent’s killing
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — A federal judge in the trial of two men accused in the death of a Border Patrol agent questioned Friday whether the prosecution can prove the defendants committed some crimes alleged in the charges.
Judge David C. Bury said prosecutors would need to provide sufficient evidence on several of the nine charges the men face, including first-degree murder.
Jesus Leonel Sanchez-Meza, also known as Lionel Portillo-Meza, and Ivan Soto-Barraza are the first to go on trial in the killing of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, whose death brought to light a government operation that allowed criminals to buy weapons with the intention of tracking them.
Instead, federal agents lost about 1,400 guns, including two found at the scene of Terry’s killing.
The judge questioned the charges of attempted interference of commerce by robbery filed by the prosecution over claims that the men participated in a “rip crew,” a gang that robs drug smugglers.
The government alleges that Sanchez-Meza and Soto-Barraza were two of the five-man crew that was planning to rob smugglers when Terry and three other agents interfered.
The agents were part of an elite tactical unit that had been in the southern Arizona desert for two days on a mission to arrest a rip crew.
The judge questioned whether there was sufficient evidence that the men were in a rip crew when there “is no drug courier, there is nobody to rob.”
Bury requested a positions statement and trial will resume on Monday with the final two prosecution witnesses.
Also on Friday, FBI Agent Michelle Terwillger testified that DNA and fingerprints from backpacks left at the scene belonged to Sanchez-Meza and Soto-Barraza.
Defense attorney Ramiro Flores has said the defendants fled when shots were fired and they did not initiate the firefight.
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.
It appears Terry never had a chance to fire. He died of a gunshot wound to his back.
Terwillger’s testimony comes two days after former Agent William Castano broke down in tears as he described desperately trying to save Terry’s life.
Castano was the leader of the operation. The team was set to be relieved in an hour when the shooting occurred.