The prosecutor in the high-profile case that sent border agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean to prison never showed the defense a potentially exculpatory Department of Homeland Security memo.
The document, an April 12, 2005, memo by Special Agent Christopher Sanchez, was first made public by WND in a report published Feb. 6. Mary Stillinger, attorney for Ramos, confirmed she learned of the memo from the WND story.
“This is huge,” Stillinger told WND, arguing the government’s failure to disclose the document to the defense denied her client his right to a fair trial and establishes the basis for declaring a mistrial.
“The government has a ‘Jencks Act requirement’ to give us any written statements by DHS Special Agent Christopher Sanchez before the defense cross-examined him,” Stillinger told WND.
The Jencks Act requires prior statements of a witness be turned over to the defense before the defense begins cross-examination
“The prosecution could have waited until they questioned Sanchez at trial,” Stillinger noted, “but they had an obligation to turn that document over to the defense before we started our cross-examination.”
According to the recently published transcript of the Ramos-Compean trial, Stillinger first cross-examined Sanchez Feb. 21, 2006.
Stillinger said the other reason the document should have been disclosed is because the April 12 Sanchez memo is “Brady material” that “could have proved my client innocent.”
Under the Supreme Court’s 1963 decision Brady v. Maryland, the prosecution is required to turn over to the defense any information that may be exculpatory to the defendant.
As previously reported by WND, the memo lists seven Border Patrol agents and two supervisors who were on the scene of the Feb. 17, 2005, shooting incident for which Ramos and Compean are now in federal prison, sentenced to 11 and 12 years respectively.
The second full paragraph of the DHS memorandum filed by agent Sanchez states:
Investigation disclosed that the following BP agents were at the location of the shooting incident, assisted in destroying evidence of the shooting, and/or knew/heard about the shooting: Oscar Juarez; Arturo Vasquez; Jose Mendoza; David Jaquez; Lance Medrano; Lorenzo Yrigoyen; Rene Mendez; Robert Arnold; and Jonathan Richards.
Of the nine listed agents, two were supervisors, Robert Arnold and Jonathan Richards. Arnold was a supervisory Border Patrol agent and Richards was a field operations supervisor, the senior officer on the field that day. Three of the agents, Vasquez, Jaquez and Juarez, were given immunity by Sutton’s office. All were called as witnesses in the case.
The next paragraph of the memo states the DHS investigation concluded the agents on the field Feb. 17 knew about the shooting, assisted Ramos and Compean in picking up the spent shell casings and all failed to report the incident.
Investigation disclosed that none of the above agents, to include Compean and Ramos, reported the shooting or the subsequent cover up when Compean and Vasquez picked up expended brass cartridges (i.e., evidence of the shooting) and threw them away.
“The document couldn’t be more important,” Stillinger emphasized. “DHS Special Agent Christopher Sanchez makes the defense argument in that report. He points out that none of the seven Border Patrol agents or 2 supervisors on the field reported the shooting, not just Ramos and Compean. Moreover, Vasquez picked up the shells and threw them away, again without the supervisors objecting or filing a report that evidence was being destroyed.”
Stillinger stressed Sanchez’s report emphasizes why her client Ramos had come to the same conclusion the day of the shooting.
“Ramos thought that surely the supervisors were told about the shooting by all these Border Patrol officers who were standing there on the field discussing the case with their supervisors,” she said. “Ramos knew for a fact that several of the Border Patrol agents heard the shooting, so why wouldn’t they tell the supervisors?”
Frustrated at the government’s decision to withhold the Sanchez memo, Stillinger expressed to WND her distress:
“What the Sanchez memo proves is that if Ramos and Compean were guilty that day, then the other Border Patrol agents who were there and their two supervisors were equally guilty,” she said.
Stillinger explained to WND in detail why she considered the memo critical to the defense.
“At the trial, the prosecution acted like it was the most ridiculous thing in the world for my client to have assumed the other agents heard the shooting,” Stillinger argued. “Yet here you have a DHS special agent investigating the shooting, and Christopher Sanchez came to the conclusion Ramos came to.”
Stillinger maintained this point “goes to the heart of the government’s case against my client, that somehow Ramos and Compean ‘lied’ because they didn’t make a point of telling the supervisors, ‘We fired our weapons.’”
“Now that we see the Sanchez memo, we find the DHS investigator documented that Ramos and Compean was right in assuming everybody knew,” she said.
Stillinger was not sure whether the prosecution had withheld the Sanchez memo from the defense or whether DHS withheld the memo from the prosecutors.
“It doesn’t matter,” Stillinger told WND. “Either way, prosecutors have to know how serious it is that this memo was withheld from us,” she said. “If we had this memo, we certainly would have cross-examined Christopher Sanchez and the other Border Patrol agents differently.”
Stillinger pointed out the jurors after the trial told the defense they did not believe Aldrete-Davila.
“We discredited the drug smuggler Aldrete-Davila pretty thoroughly at the trial,” she said. “But the overall sentiment was that the jurors had a problem that Ramos and Compean didn’t report the shooting. This memo would have proved different.”
Stillinger was adamant a mistrial must be declared.
“This memo addresses the most essential element in the trial,” she said. “It proves the agents on the field knew about the shooting and even DHS special agent Christopher Sanchez concluded the other agents on the field and the supervisors knew about the shooting.”
Attorney Jerri Ward, who has conducted an extensive analysis of the Ramos-Compean case on her blog, supported Stillinger’s arguments.
“If all the agents, including the supervisors knew the weapons had been discharged, then there was no need for Compean and Ramos to walk up and say, ‘I shot my gun,’” Ward said.
Moreover, she argued, “If the supervisors knew, it was their duty to take it up from there.”
Ward concurred that withholding the Sanchez memo was a serious violation of the defendants’ right to a fair trial.
“The prosecution’s case was ‘made’ by representing that the agents intentionally hid the discharge of the weapons from the supervisors because they supposedly ‘knew’ they shot at Aldrete-Davila wrongfully,” Ward explained. “This report suggests that nothing was hidden from the fellow Border Patrol agents or the supervisors.
“Withholding exculpatory evidence is not only a violation of the discovery rules,” Ward stressed, “it is a violation of the U.S. Constitution to withhold such evidence from the defense.”
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