9th Circuit appeals panel upholds convictions in killing of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry

In a somewhat surprising ruling given the venue involved, a three-judge panel on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — comprised of a Bush-nominated judge and two Obama-nominated judges — upheld the murder convictions and life sentences of two Mexican nationals charged with the killing of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in 2010, the Associated Press reported.

The murder of Terry, while tragic in and of itself, garnered extra attention due to the fact that the weapons used were ultimately traced back to a foolish and potentially criminal “gun-walking” scheme by the Obama-era Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) known as “Operation Fast and Furious” in which Mexican cartels were permitted to purchase firearms from U.S. gun stores in a failed bid to track the movement of the weapons.

The two Mexicans who were convicted of Terry’s murder, Ivan Soto-Barraza and Jesus Lionel Sanchez-Meza, were part of a crew that robbed marijuana smugglers north of the border in Arizona that had been intercepted by — and engaged in a brief firefight with — a team of Border Patrol agents that included Terry.

Extradition appealed

According to the Arizona Capitol Times, the two Mexicans had appealed their convictions on the grounds that their extradition from Mexico to the U.S. to stand trial was unlawful based on a requirement in the extradition treaty between the two nations that the crimes for which an extradited individual is charged be the same in both countries.

Both men were indicted on a felony murder charge as well as conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery, assault on four Border Patrol agents, and discharging a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.

The two men argued that there was no such thing as “felony murder” in Mexico, that the robbery of marijuana smugglers wouldn’t constitute interference in commerce, that there was no equivalent charge to the assault on the Border Patrol agents, and that the life sentences they received were illegal in light of the fact that sentences in Mexico can’t exceed 70 years.

“Substantially analogous” laws

Judge Sandra Ikuta, a Bush nominee who wrote the unanimous opinion for the three-judge panel, determined that the murder convictions and life sentences would stand, as the extraditions were deemed to be legal due to the fact that, while perhaps not exact, Mexico did indeed have “substantially analogous” laws with regard to the crimes for which the men had been charged.

Furthermore, she ruled that the men really had no argument to make anyway, as the Mexican government had agreed to extradite them to the U.S. to stand trial — something they wouldn’t have done if the charged crimes had been significantly different from that nation’s own criminal statutes.

“The principle of dual criminality does not require that the crimes be identical,” she wrote. “Rather only the ‘essential character’ of the acts criminalized by the laws of each country must be the same, and the laws substantially analogous.”

Justice for Brian Terry

The only “win” obtained by the two convicts, according to the AP, was the overturning of their convictions for the crime of carrying and discharging a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence — which would shave approximately 120 months off of the additional time that had been tacked on to the end of their life sentences for the other crimes besides murder.

Thankfully, the rule of law was upheld by the Ninth Circuit panel, and these two men convicted of the murder of Brian Terry will continue to be held accountable for their terrible criminal acts.

Now, if only those who were responsible for the “Fast and Furious” operation that allowed those murderers to get their hands on the rifles used to kill Terry would also be held accountable, true and complete justice would finally be served on behalf of the slain agent.

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