RAW DEAL FOR RAMOS AND COMPEAN
Jon Christian Ryter
January 22, 2009
On his final full day in office, Mon., Jan. 19, 2001, outgoing President George W. Bush commuted the 11 and 12 year sentences of Ignatious "Nachos" Ramos and Jose Alonzo Compean, respectively. The act of clemency, which leaves their convictions—and their status as "convicted felons"—intact, goes into effect on March 20 when their prison sentences will simply "expire." Bush's decision came two years after the agents began serving their prison sentences on Jan. 17, 2007 for shooting Mexican drug runner Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila. On Feb. 17, 2005 drug cartel drug-runner Aldrete-Davila loaded up his van with 743-lbs of marijuana in a small village near Juarez, Mexico and headed for Fabens, Texas where he planned to dispose of his million dollar cargo.
Driving the same levee road near the Rio Grande that fateful night was "Border Patrol Agent of the Year" nominee Jose Compean, an agent with over 100 arrests under his belt. When Compean spied Aldrete-Davila, the drug-running was barreling north at high speed. Compean radioed for back-up. When Aldrete-Davila reached the outskirts of Fabens, he suddenly realized he couldn't outrun the Border Patrol. He decided to try to get his contraband—which didn't belong to him—back across the river into Mexico to avoid arrest and the seizure of his cargo. By this time, however, a second and third agent had joined the chase.
Realizing he could not save his cargo and himself, Aldrete-Davila abandoned his car on the levee and fled to the river on foot—into the waiting hands of Compean who correctly surmised what the drug smuggler would do. Only, at that moment, none of the agents knew they had a career drug smuggler within their grasp. As far as they knew, this was just an illegal. Perhaps a coyote with a vanload of illegals. A foot pursuit took place. Had Compean been a bigger, heavier man, the chase might have ended differently.
As he neared the levee, Ramos later testified to his superiors that "...at some point during the time where I'm crossing the canal, I hear shots. Later, I see Compean on the ground, but I keep running after the smuggler..." (who, at that moment, he did not know was a smuggler). This would be a sticking point for US Attorney Johnny Sutton who prosecuted them. Sutton argued since they did not know the suspect was a drug runner, they could not use lethal force to stop him; and the fact that Ramos and Compean fired he him was not mitigated by the fact that Aldrete-Davila was a drug smuggler with a million dollars worth of contraband. Both Ramos and Compean affirmed that Aldrete-Davila had a weapon and as he was running to the river, and that he turned to fire at them. They fired. And, even though there was no blood trail from the spot where Aldrete-Davila was running to the river, Aldrete-Davila insisted the wound he suffered was caused by an assault by the Border Patrol agents and that he did not have a weapon. Ramos testified that he saw Aldrete-Davila holding a nickle-plated handgun. Believing his life was in danger, Ramos fired. "But I didn't think he was hit because he kept running into the brush and disappeared. Later we all watched as he jumped into a van [on the other side of the border]. He seemed fine. It didn't look like he'd been hit at all."
While both Ramos and Compean told their field supervisors that they discharged their weapons, that information did not appear in the supervisor's report. Further, since Compean policed his brass, both were charged with conspiracy to conceal evidence of a crime. Under the Immigration Control & Enforcement Protection Table of Offenses and Penalties, failure to report that a weapon had been discharged in the line of duty was punishable by suspension without pay for 5 days. At most, this was the only "crime" of which Ramos and Compean should have been charged.
Aldrete-Davila suffered a wound caused by a 40-caliber Smith & Wesson jacketed hollow-point that entered the left buttock, passed through his pelvis and lodged in his right thigh, damaging the drug smuggler's urethra. (The agents carried 40 caliber Berettas.) Aldrete-Davila claims he suffered the wound at the hands of the Border Patrol while fleeing, unarmed. US Army Col. Winston Warme, MD of the William Beaumont Army Medical Center, who repaired Aldrete-Davila's urethra, testified that the bullet entered his body at an angle suggesting that the person who was shot was turning, like he was firing at the officers as he was fleeing. Nevertheless, the fact that Aldrete-Davila was shot with a 40 caliber slug, based on the lack of a blood trail, and without a ballistics match, does not confirm that either agent shot him. It 's just as likely that Aldrete-Davila was short by the drug lord whose marijuana it was that Aldrete-Davila lost when he dumped his cargo and dashed back across the river as a warning to other drug runners to protect their cargoes with their lives.
When Sutton issued an arrest warrant for the agents, Ramos and Compean were not given the courtesy of surrendering to their supervisors in the US Border Patrol, or even quietly to US Marshals. Sutton arranged for simultaneous SWAT teams to stage assaults on their homes, deliberately traumatizing their families and very deliberately sending a message to every Border Patrol agent that attempting to arrest those who violate our borders has a horrible price. (It worked. Arrests along the border by Border Patrol agents plummeted. They simply turned their backs on illegals crossing into the United States, images of Ramos and Compean etched into their minds.)
President Bush's decision on Monday was an answer to the prayers not only of the families of the two agents, but to thousands of conservatives who have been petitioning the White House to pardon the pair. Patty Compean, the wife of Jose Compean, learned her husband's sentence had been commuted from reporters who called to ask for a statement. She immediately called the prison in Ohio where her husband, like Ramos, has been held in solitary confinement since shortly after their convictions but was not allowed to speak with him even though his sentence had just been commuted by the President of the United States. Ramos was assaulted shortly after being confined. Both men were moved to solitary to protect their lives due to the danger they faced because they were law enforcement officers before thier convictions.
Monica Ramos said she had faith that Bush would "...help free her husband." In point of fact, Bush engineered the prosecution and conviction of her husband as a favor to Fox. Monica Ramos said "...[i]t's like a the nightmare will finally be over. We can have a new life, a new beginning."
Bush relented only because, over the last six months, he was flooded with requests from scores of members of Congress—both Republicans and Democrats—to pardon the Border Patrol agents. In a statement issued on Monday after the commutation, Sutton said "...the president has concluded that Compean and Ramos have been sufficiently punished," adding that the two agents "...had been justly convicted and that their status as convicted felons should remain in place." Think about that. Compean and Ramos were convicted of criminal assault and using a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence, and civil rights violations.
They were railroaded by the US Attorney and maliciously prosecuted at the insistence of the Attorney General of the United States. US District Court Judge Kathleen Cardone, a Bush-43 judicial appointment, railroaded the defendants. During the trial, Sutton attempted to inflame the non-sequestered jury by issuing a three page statement to the media that he could not legally enter into evidence in which he said the two agents "...fired their weapons at a man who was attempting to surrender by holding his open hands in the air."
During jury deliberation, three members of the jury, believing Ramos and Compean were innocent, held out for a not guilty verdict against nine jurors who were convinced the agents would never have been charged if they weren't guilty. That fact notwithstanding, at 2:15 p.m. on March 15, 2006 the jury found them guilty. When the verdict was read, the three jury members began to cry.
A few days later Ramos' lawyer, Mary Stillinger, contacted the jury members whom she witnessed crying. They agreed to speak to her on the record. They told Stillinger the jury foreman was told by Judge Cardone that the jury would vote either "guilty" or "not guilty." She would not accept a hung jury. If the three couldn't convince the other nine, they would have to vote guilty. The three should have insisted on seeing the judge's instructions in writing. If she did tell the jury foreman that, Cardone would never put such a demand in writing. The judge was engaging in jury intimidation.
Constitutionally, under our jury system, the judge does not have the power to tell a jury how they will or will not vote. The people constitutionally have the final word in the fate of those charged with violating the laws of this country. That's why the rule of law works. Conversely, when judges attempt to intimidate juries, or when prosecutors misrepresent the evidence, miscarriages of justice like the Ramos and Compean convictions happen. Bush's commutation is a further miscarriage of justice. Ramos and Compean deserve nothing short of a presidential pardon simply because they are innocent of the crimes for which they were accused and convicted. However else history judges former President George W. Bush, he will carry the stain of this deliberate miscarriage of justice, engineered by his presidency, into history.
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For the sake of "jury unity," and not because they were convinced the pair was guilty of anything, Ramos and Compean were wrongfully confined in federal prison on Jan. 17, 2007 and will remain there until March 20. They will have spent 792 days in prison for a crime that did not happen just to fulfill an international political mandate to create a world with open borders. Of anyone who has ever sought a presidential pardon, no one has ever been more deserving of one than Ignatious Ramos and Jose Compean. Perhaps when Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin wins the White House in 2012 Ramos and Compean will win their pardon and be restored to service in the US Border Patrol with back pay and all privileges that go with the badge.