Man accused in border agent killing is extradited
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — One of the five men accused in the killing of a U.S. Border Patrol agent whose death exposed a botched federal gun sting has been extradited to the United States.
Jesus Leonel Sanchez-Meza, also known as Lionel Portillo-Meza, was arraigned in federal court in Tucson on Wednesday. He was flown in from Mexico on Tuesday.
Sanchez-Meza is only the second of the suspects to face justice in the U.S. in the slaying of Brian Terry, who was killed after a shootout with the men near the U.S.-Mexico border on Dec. 14, 2010.
The case brought to light the botched Fast and Furious operation in which federal agents trying to track guns allowed criminals to buy them for weapons smugglers. Instead, agents lost track of 1,400 of the 2,000 guns involved in the sting operation, including two weapons found at the scene of Terry’s killing.
Only Manuel Osorio-Arellanes has been sentenced in the killing. He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced in February to 30 years in prison.
“It was a very long process and were just very thankful that Mexican authorities have continued to work with us,” said Robert Heyer, Terry’s cousin and the family’s spokesman. “The family has gotten really good at not having high expectations and knowing that things are going to take lots of time. They have become very patient over the last 3 ½ years. So we don’t celebrate many things.”
Two men remain fugitives. Another who is in Mexican custody awaits extradition.
The shootout erupted just north of the Arizona border city of Nogales as Osorio-Arellanes and four other men who are accused of sneaking into the country to rob marijuana smugglers approached Terry and three other agents who were targeting so-called rip-off crews.
Osorio-Arellanes was the only person arrested at the scene. Osorio-Arellanes maintains he was not the shooter who killed Terry, and prosecutors agree that evidence supports his claim. Still, they say he is liable because he was a voluntary participant in the rip-off crew.
Federal authorities who conducted the Fast and Furious investigation have faced criticism for allowing suspected straw buyers for a smuggling ring to walk away from Arizona gun shops with weapons, rather than arresting them and seizing the guns.
The operation embarrassed the federal government and prompted a series of congressional investigations. Members of the gun-smuggling ring that was being monitored in Fast and Furious have pleaded guilty to federal charges.
Sanchez-Meza has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, second-degree murder, conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery, attempted interference with commerce by robbery, use and carrying a firearm during a crime of violence, and assault on a federal officer.