Two Mexican nationals have been convicted of federal murder charges in the death of a Border Patrol agent. The two men, Ivan Soto-Barraza and Jesus Leonel Sanchez-Meza, were members of a “rip crew,” which is a group that robs drug traffickers of drugs or money. The men admitted they had entered the U.S. looking for drug smugglers to rob, and were carrying semi-automatic rifles.
The group was confronted by four U.S. Border Patrol Agents about 11 miles north of the Mexican border, who shouted out “Policia,” and began shooting non-lethal bean bag projectiles. Some member or members of the group began firing at the Border Patrol agents, hitting Brian Terry, who was killed. One member of the rip crew was also wounded, as the rest of the team fled into the night.
Two other members of the rip crew have already pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, including the wounded member and the organizer, and were sentenced to 30 years in federal prison. Two other members have still not been captured. A recruiter for the rip-crew, Rosario Rafael Burboa-Alvarez has also pleaded guilty. Burboa-Alvarez was already in U.S. custody for “immigration-related crimes,” when he was indicted. He is now facing a 12 year sentence, and will be removed from the U.S. after serving his sentence.
Soto-Barraza and Sanchez-Meza were extradited from Mexico to stand trial in the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Tucson, Arizona. The U.S. Attorney's Office for Arizona recused their office from the case in order to avoid any concern about conflicts of interest, and the San Diego office prosecuted the case instead.
The two men were charged with first-degree murder, second-degree murder, conspiracy, attempted robbery, carrying a firearm in a violent crime, and assaulting a federal officer. A jury has convicted them on all counts. They now face mandatory life sentences in a federal prison.
While neither one admitted to firing the fatal shot, that is not a requirement to be convicted of first-degree murder based on the doctrine of felony murder. Under felony murder, a defendant can be found guilty if they commit a certain kind of felony, and someone dies during the commission of the felony. In this case, the felony committed was attempted robbery when Agent Terry was killed.
Their defense claimed there was no felony murder because they could not have committed any attempted robbery since no drug smugglers were in the area at the time. They also claimed self-defense, saying they did not know the shooters were federal agents. In the end, the jury returned a guilty verdict.
The shooting also brought to light the a Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives operation known as “Fast and Furious,” which provided over firearms to criminals, intending to track them to cartel leaders. The agency lost track of at least 2,000 of the weapons. One of two AK-47 type rifles found at the scene were traced to the federal operation. The program eventually led to a contempt hearing for the former Attorney General Eric Holder.