Murder in the Desert – Border Patrol agent Nicholas Corbett faces new trial

Border Patrol Agent Nicholas Corbett faces retrial in murder of detained immigrantAdd the name Nicholas Corbett to the rogues gallery of Border Patril agents who think because they were a badge, the are above the law. Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean are two others who come to mind.

This week federal prosecutors will open a murder trial against an Arizona border agent. But for many people, the case also will put on trial the nation’s border security strategy.

The retrial of U.S. Border Patrol agent Nicholas Corbett in Tucson is inflaming the divided passions about immigration and border security.

Corbett’s defenders say the case is about a man defending himself against a violent attacker in a dangerous place, and then being punished, for political reasons, for doing his job.

They say the confrontation that led to Corbett shooting an illegal immigrant is reason for stricter security and tighter immigration laws. (How about more training and a tighter rein on these cowboys?)

Prosecutors say the case has nothing to do with border issues. Rather, it’s about upholding the law to punish a man who abused his power to commit murder.

Human-rights activists also say the case represents an overly severe border policy that needs stricter oversight.

The Corbett case has attracted attention on each side of the border, with Mexico calling for Corbett’s prosecution.

The fact that Corbett, 41, fired a single fatal bullet into 22-year-old Francisco Dominguez-Rivera in January 2007 is not in dispute. The issue is whether the shooting was self-defense. (Mmm, a man on the ground, trying to surrender, and the coward shoots him in the back!? )

Corbett, who remains on duty, is charged with second-degree murder, manslaughter and negligent homicide. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted. In March, a jury deadlocked in the case. (This numbnuts should be on suspension)

The retrial begins Tuesday with jury selection.

What happened

On the afternoon of Jan. 12, 2007, Corbett was patrolling in his truck in a remote desert area near Douglas. He spotted, then chased, four illegal immigrants who knew they had been discovered and were fleeing to Mexico.

Corbett cut them off within 100 yards of the border. He jumped out of his vehicle and ordered them to surrender.

Three illegal immigrants, Dominguez-Rivera’s relatives, obeyed and lay down in the dirt. Dominguez-Rivera, who was from southern Mexico, was slow to give up.

Corbett circled behind his truck and, moments later, shot from less than a foot away. The bullet entered Dominguez-Rivera’s left armpit and punctured his heart and other vital organs.

A bullet casing matching Corbett’s ammunition was found next to his head. The slug recovered from the body matched Corbett’s weapon. The shot came from above and slightly behind the victim, the medical examiner concluded.

The incident was captured in grainy video by a camera attached to a border-fence pole.

That is where all agreement stops.

The controversy

Grant Woods, special prosecutor for the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office, said the evidence clearly points to murder, not self-defense.

“The evidence is pretty overwhelming,” Woods said.

According to initial police reports, Corbett told investigators he shot Dominguez-Rivera from about 4 feet away when the illegal immigrant raised his arm to throw a rock at Corbett.

The video, gunpowder residue, autopsy data and eyewitness testimony from the victim’s three relatives show the shooting could not have occurred as Corbett described, prosecutors argue.

But the investigation was poorly handled, both sides agree. Investigators left evidence at the crime scene that had been contaminated for almost two hours, officials later testified. Witnesses were not kept apart.

An official from the Mexican consulate met with the three family members before they gave statements and promised them government support. He told them President Felipe Calderón was adamant that Corbett be made an example, according to a transcript of the meeting in court documents. A recording of Border Patrol dispatch tapes was destroyed.

Critical to defense attorneys is what happened to a pair of gloves worn by Dominguez-Rivera. If his gloves had dirt and rock bits on them, they might indicate that he had been threatening Corbett, Corbett’s lawyers argued.

First, investigators said the gloves had been collected. Then, when the gloves were missing from the evidence log, officers said they had been given to the family. When the gloves appeared at the crime scene a year later, investigators concluded they had given the family a different pair of gloves.

“He didn’t do this,” Corbett’s lawyer, Sean Chapman, said. “He did what he had to do to protect himself.”

Defense attorneys argued that investigators misrepresented Corbett’s initial statements, that he didn’t tell them he was 4 feet away. On the stand in the first trial, Corbett claimed he shot Dominguez-Rivera at close range as the man started to smash a rock on the agent’s head.

“The physical and forensic evidence is consistent with his testimony,” Chapman said, referring to evidence about the bullet’s path, the close range of fire, the video and other evidence.

A judge disallowed evidence from the prosecution and the defense that questioned the character of Corbett and Dominguez-Rivera.

Border agents’ jobs


The shooting occurred in one of the busiest smuggling routes along the U.S.-Mexican border. Encounters with heavily armed drug smugglers are commonplace there, as are rock-throwing assaults.

Between Oct. 1 and June 30, agents were attacked 827 times along the entire border. Three-quarters of those were rock attacks, often to divert agents’ attention; those increased 40 percent over the same period a year before. Border agents typically patrol alone and arrest 20 or 30 illegal immigrants at a time.

“It is an inherently dangerous job,” said Border Patrol Assistant Chief Lloyd Easterling.

He said agents spend hours training on when to use deadly force. They are told to show discretion based on the risk to them and others.

During 850,000 arrests on the Mexican border last year, agents fired their weapons 51 times, a sign of restraint, Easterling said.

Corbett’s trial comes months after two agents in Texas were convicted of shooting a drug smuggler and trying to cover up the crime. Both cases have incensed border-security advocates.   (Neo-Cons who think it should be open seaon on any Hispanic, legal or illegal, because to them, there is no difference)

Edward Truffly, president of National Border Patrol Council Local 2544, the union representing Corbett, highlighted the case in a letter to President Bush in August complaining about a weak response to an incident in which Mexican troops held another agent at gunpoint near Ajo.

“Do the Mexican soldiers deserve to be treated better than our own agents?” Truffly wrote.

“Local 2544 is putting up Corbett’s defense, and we are very proud to do it,” a union Web site said about the case. “This could happen to any of us, especially given the current political climate.” (Wouldn’t happen to any of you if you followed the rules)


Rights advocates

Human-rights organizations view the case in terms of the border’s increasing militarization and growing anti-immigrant sentiments.

“A guilty verdict is really important to sending the message to Border Patrol agents that nobody is above the law and that everybody is accountable,” said Jennifer Allen, executive director of Border Action Network, a Tucson-based civil-rights group that held a vigil during the first trial. “The Corbett trial is the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface is a whole labyrinth of issues.”

Last year, Border Action Network alleged in a report that abuse, mistreatment and violation of the rights of immigrants and citizens is routine in the borderlands.

In a three-month period, Border Action volunteers documented 116 cases of abuse, ranging from unlawful arrest and torture to verbal abuse. Border Patrol agents were blamed in about a tenth of the cases, and local police and sheriff’s deputies in much of the rest. The Border Patrol insists that the maltreatment claims are exaggerated.

Amid the conflicts, the prosecution and defense must find a fair jury.

“Immigration is a hot-button issue, and there is a tendency to confuse the facts of this case with that debate,” Chapman, Corbett’s defense attorney, said. But in this case, “Corbett acted in self-defense.”

Woods, the prosecutor, said the case speaks to the state’s and nation’s respect for human rights.

“I can’t think of too many countries that would look at the evidence and take the side of the people who are here illegally against its own officers only because it’s the right thing to do,” Woods said. “In this country, we don’t shoot people from behind during an act of surrender.”  (Well said Mr. Prosecutor!)

The Pink Flamingo Blog has more in depth reporting of this scum sucker that people should look at before deciding to make this cretin a right wing hero. Interesting stuff!