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Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
After presiding over a Senate hearing today, Sen. Dianne Feinstein has decided to ask President Bush to commute the sentences of former U.S. Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, an aide for the California Democrat told WND.
Feinstein will have a letter delivered to the White House tomorrow, said spokesman Scott Gerber.
Following the Senate judiciary committee’s examination of the controversial prosecution, according to Gerber, the senator said “it became very clear the sentences did not match the crime.”
The letter also will be signed by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
Ramos and Compean are serving 11- and 12-year prison sentences, respectively, after a jury convicted them of violating federal gun laws and covering up the shooting of a drug smuggler as he fled back to Mexico after driving across the border with 743 pounds of marijuana. U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton’s office gave the smuggler, Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila, immunity to serve as the government’s star witness and testify against the border agents.
Feinstein concluded the hearing today with a vow to look further into why prosecutors charged the men under section 924(c) of the U.S. code, which requires a 10-year sentence for using or carrying a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence.
Feinstein, during questioning of Sutton, argued the statute did not apply to Ramos and Compean in their pursuit of a drug smuggler at the Mexican border, because there was no underlying crime.
Gerber told WND that Feinstein has concluded the use of 924(c) was “prosecutorial overreach.”
Revival of interest
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif. – who will chair a similar hearing in the House July 31 – told WND he believed today’s session helped revive flagging interest in the case as Ramos and Compean pass 180 days of imprisonment while awaiting their appeals.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.
He would prefer a pardon, but said he is pleased Feinstein is taking action and finds it ironic a “liberal Democrat” would do more than some “squishy Republican senators.”
“I was gratified and just overwhelmed with admiration for Sen. Feinstein, that she definitely is taking this issue seriously and decided she is going to step up and fight for these little guys that are being squashed,” Rohrabacher told WND.
Rohrabacher asserted the hearing today “made clear this case is, on the face of it, rotten.”
“I think it has a lot to do with an attitude in this administration that refuses to admit any mistakes and protects its own clique but nobody else,” he said.
Many supporters of Ramos and Compean have argued that if the president could pardon or commute the sentence of former White House aide “Scooter” Libby, he should show mercy to border agents who were prosecuted while a drug smuggler went free. The president commuted Libby’s 30-month prison sentence earlier this month.
Rohrabacher told WND Sutton has refused to testify at the July 31 hearing of the Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The congressman will examine alleged involvement of the Mexican government in the decision to prosecute the agents and others, including Texas Deputy Sheriff Gilmer Hernandez. Sutton’s Western District of Texas office also prosecuted Hernandez, who was convicted of violating the civil rights of two illegal aliens injured from shell fragments that struck them as the officer shot at the tires of a van in which they escaped from a routine traffic stop. The van driver had tried to run over Hernandez.
Rohrabacher said Sutton also has refused to provide information concerning a special visa, or transit pass, given to Aldrete-Davila in the immunity deal, allowing him to travel back and forth across the border. The congressman wants to know if the pass was used in an alleged second attempt by Aldrete-Davila to smuggle marijuana into the U.S., eight months after the February 2005 incident at the center of the case.
When confronted today with the fact information about the alleged second smuggling attempt was kept from the jury, Sutton argued the judge made the decision.
But Rohrabacher points out the prosecution initiated that demand. If the jury had known about the second attempt – an apparent violation of the immunity agreement – the panel likely would not have convicted the agents, the congressman believes.
The hearing has given Ramos and Compean new life, Rohrabacher said.
“It really looked like the issue would die, and we now have at least a fighting chance,” he said. “But nothing will happen until the American people rise up in a righteous rage to save these guys.”
Petitioning the White House
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a candidate for president, said in testimony today pardoning Ramos and Compean is the only way “to correct this terrible injustice.”
“The men and women of the Border Patrol are certainly not above the laws they are empowered to enforce,” Hunter said. “But they must also know that when they must apply the necessary and appropriate level of force, their government will not work aggressively to ensure they are punished while lawlessness is rewarded.”
“This is not the case of the United States saying, we are not going to support people who go after drug dealers. Of course we are. We think it’s incumbent to go after drug dealers, and we also think that it’s vitally important to make sure that we provide border security so our people are secure,” Snow said. “We also believe that the people who are working to secure that border themselves obey the law. And in a court of law, these two agents were convicted on 11 of 12 counts by a jury of their peers after a lengthy trial at which they did have the opportunity to make their case.”
Later that month, amid growing criticism from congressmen and activists, WND learned the White House was opening up a line of communication with lawmakers and promised it would review a transcript of the trial.
Also at that time, Snow told WND the White House was trying to get the trial transcript, “so everybody can see what happened in trial, and we can try to discern the real facts of the case.”
Yesterday, at the daily press briefing, Snow said he could not discuss any details related to a potential pardon or commutation.
In his prepared testimony today, Sutton acknowledged the case has been “the subject of widespread media attention and heated debate.”
U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton
He insisted that since the convictions, “it has been clear that some individuals do not understand the facts of the case, while others are merely concerned with using it to make a point about some other issue, such as illegal immigration.”
Sutton said he wanted to use the hearing to “set the record straight by discussing the ample facts already in the public record, but I will be limited to discussing only information in the public record.”
After recounting the prosecution’s view of the case, he concluded: “The prosecution of Compean and Ramos was about our commitment to the rule of law and about two former law enforcement officers who committed serious crimes. An honest reading of the facts of this case shows that Compean and Ramos deliberately shot at an unarmed man in the back without justification, destroyed evidence to cover it up, and lied about it. A jury heard the facts and voted to convict. Faithfulness to the rule of law required me to bring this case.”