House Panel to Probe Mexico's Role in Ramos-Compean Affair

By Kevin Mooney | July 7, 2008 | 8:32pm EDT

( - A congressional panel will Tuesday try to establish whether the Mexican government played a role in the prosecution of two former Border Patrol agents serving lengthy prison terms for shooting a Mexican drug smuggler.

The House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight will hold a hearing on the case of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. In prison since January, they face 11- and 12-year sentences, respectively, for shooting and wounding Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila in February 2005 and then trying to cover up the incident.

Aldrete-Davila had been attempting to smuggle 743 pounds of marijuana across the border.

Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) told Cybercast News Service on Monday that the Mexican authorities had been wielding far too much influence over their U.S. counterparts in matters involving border security.

"Why is our government so willing to accept demands from Mexico?" he asked. "What the Mexican government thinks about these cases should be irrelevant -- they don't have a vote."

Poe said Mexican officials have previously attempted to influence the prosecution of U.S. agents, and he cited the case of Texas Sheriff Deputy Gilmer Hernandez, who was sentenced last December to imprisonment for one year and one day for violating the civil rights of an illegal alien.

Hernandez in April 2005 confronted a group of illegal aliens in a van after he observed the vehicle running a red light.

The driver allegedly tried to run Hernandez over before speeding off, and the deputy fired several shots at the vehicle. One bullet injured a woman inside the van.

Poe said he has copies of two letters sent by the Mexican consulate to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the sheriff's department in Edwards County, Texas, demanding stiff prosecution in the Hernandez case.

"There's a pattern here of over-the-top, overzealous prosecution of border agents that are doing their job," he argued.

Tuesday's hearing is due to hear testimony from T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, Ramos' attorney David Botsford and Charles Shapiro, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere.

Although he does not sit on the subcommittee, as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Poe will be permitted to ask questions.

U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton offered Aldrete-Davila, who was unarmed when the agents discharged their weapons, immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony against the two agents.

A jury convicted Ramos and Compean, but Poe said a salient piece of information was withheld during the trial.

"The federal government insisted on hiding from the jury the fact that the drug smuggler brought in another load of drugs while he was waiting to testify," he said. "The jury should have heard this testimony so they could judge the credibility of the government's star witness."

The former agents' appeal is due to come before the Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans in August.

As a former judge -- he served as a felony court judge in Harris County, Texas -- Poe said he understands all too well how unpredictable the appeals process is. However, he said bipartisan support for the cause of the two former agents was building.

Following a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing probing the matter, Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) called on President Bush to commute the sentences, calling them excessive.

In the House, Reps. Poe, Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) and Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) sponsored an amendment to the Commerce Justice and Science FY 2008 appropriations bill prohibiting the federal government from spending any federal funds to keep Ramos and Compean imprisoned. In a voice vote last week, it passed with bipartisan support.

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