Former U.S. Border Patrol agent Ignacio Ramos embraced his wife, Monica Ramos, two days before he was sentenced to 11 years in prison (El Paso Times)
With their legal options running out, two agents for the U.S. Border Patrol serving jail sentences in connection with the shooting of a Mexican drug smuggler are appealing their convictions today in federal court.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans is hearing the appeal of agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, and the three-judge panel will typically issue a decision within four to six weeks of hearing the arguments.
A judgment in favor of Ramos and Compean could reverse their convictions and demand a new trial.
A reversal would be based on legal errors made by the prosecution and/or the judge at the trial court, not on a rehearing of the facts of the case.
If Ramos and Compean should lose the appeal at the U.S. Court of Appeals, the last remaining level of judicial appeal is the U.S. Supreme Court, which may or may not decide to hear the case.
Ramos and Compean are currently in solitary confinement in federal prison, serving 11- and 12-year sentences respectively, for shooting fleeing drug smuggler Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila who was escaping into Mexico after having brought 750 pounds of marijuana across the border into Fabens, Texas.
Last Thursday, Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Robert Holguin testified at Aldrete-Davila’s bond hearing that the DEA has information Aldrete-Davila is a professional drug smuggler who transports for a drug smuggling ring in Mexico.
Moreover, Holguin confirmed an earlier WND report that Aldrete-Davila had been involved not only in a “second load” on Oct. 22, 2005, but also an unsuccessful drug run on Sept. 24, 2005.
Both the September and October 2005 incidents occurred before the start of the Ramos-Compean trial, while Aldrete-Davila was under a grant of immunity from prosecutor U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton in El Paso and in possession of a “multiple entry” border pass card signed by Department of Homeland Security Special Agent Christopher Sanchez.
This directly contradicts Aldrete-Davila’s testimony at trial that he was an innocent victim who knew nothing about drug smuggling or marijuana, but was forced to drive the van on Feb. 17, 2005, because he lost his commercial drivers license in Mexico and he needed to buy medicine for his sick mother.
Agent Jose Compean (KFOX-TV)
A key issue in the Ramos-Compean appeal is whether their rights to a fair trial were severely compromised when Judge Kathleen Cardone ruled in favor of a prosecution motion to seal all information about the second load and prohibited the defense from cross-examining Aldrete-Davila about his professional drug smuggling history as evidenced by the second load.
A WND analysis of the Ramos-Compean appellant briefs leaves no doubt defense attorneys at the appeal felt Judge Cardone’s decision was a critically harmful error, preventing the defense from demonstrating to the jury that Aldrete-Davila, the prosecution’s star witness, may well have lied about having a gun on Feb. 17, 2005, since he also lied about the nature and extent of his drug running activities.
The appellant briefs also make clear that Aldrete-Davila was smuggling a “huge load” of 750 pounds of marijuana with a street value of approximately $500,000, not the type of load a “poor mule” would be hired to drive across the border for the mere $1,000 to $1,500 Aldrete-Davila represented he was going to be paid.
Moreover, the appellant briefs argue Aldrete-Davila’s subsequent lawsuit against the Border Patrol for $5 million was conditioned upon the conviction of Ramos and Compean, a goal which the appellant lawyers believed provided Aldrete-Davila 5 million reasons to lie.
At issue for the appellate judges to decide is whether or not technical errors were made at the trial – for instance, if Judge Cardone’s ruling that the immunity extended to Aldrete-Davila still allowed him Fifth Amendment privileges to refuse to testify about the second load.
At stake in the court of public opinion is whether or not the jury would have convicted Ramos and Compean if the full evidence of Aldrete-Davila’s second load and extensive professional drug history had been presented.
WND has run a three-part series analyzing the Ramos-Compean appellant briefs to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
In the first part, WND argued Ramos and Compean were convicted after an overzealous prosecution charged them under the wrong statute, while trying to “bootstrap” a series of administrative errors into criminal offenses.
In the second part, WND examined case law arguing Ramos and Compean’s use of deadly force in the Feb. 17, 2005, incident with Aldrete-Davila was reasonable and justified in the circumstances of the event.
In the third part, WND examined defense arguments Ramos and Compean were denied their right to a fair trial when Judge Cardone’s rulings allowed Aldrete-Davila to assume Fifth Amendment privileges, thereby preventing Ramos and Compean from cross-examining him on the second load.
WND has also reported Andy Ramirez, chairman of the Friends of the Border Patrol, has called for a special prosecutor to investigate Sutton and trial prosecutor Debra Kanof for subornation of perjury for allowing Aldrete-Davila to take the stand under “false pretenses.”
On Nov. 19, WND reported a group of 31 prominent conservative leaders, including one of President Bush’s long-time friends, have signed a letter urging Bush to pardon Ramos and Compean.
Last week, WND filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security seeking government information about the lawsuit filed against the United States by Aldrete-Davila.