US border agent Lonnie Swartz is accused of shooting dead a stone-throwing teenager on the Mexican side of the border. The murder trial is believed to be the first of its kind in the US.
A US federal prosecutor told a court on Wednesday that a US Border Patrol agent who shot across the US-Mexican border and killed a Mexican teenager committed murder, but a defense attorney maintained his client's actions were lawful.
The trial, which is expected to last three weeks, comes at a time when President Donald Trump is pushing to build a wall along the entire US-Mexican border in order to keep out undocumented immigrants and drugs.
Border agent Lonnie Swartz "calmly and deliberately" walked up to the border fence and fired 16 rounds in little more than 30 seconds on October 10, 2012, Assistant US Attorney Mary Sue Feldmeier said during opening arguments.
Swartz shot at 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, hitting him 10 times — eight shots from behind and twice in the head, Feldmeier said. Swartz needed to reload his pistol to fire all 16 rounds, she added.
Elena Rodriguez was shot from the other side of the metal poles of a 20-foot (6-meter) high fence that spans a 25-foot embankment separating the cities of Nogales, Arizona — where Swartz was on patrol — and Nogales, Mexico — where the teenager was walking.
"This is not an immigration case, this is not a drug case," Feldmeier told the US District Court in Tucson, Arizona. "This is a second-degree murder case."
The existing wall along the US-Mexican border is already unpopular on the southern side of the border
Swartz, who was charged in 2015 and pleaded not guilty, "cannot use his badge as a shield against a murder charge," she added.
Feldmeier said Swartz "became the judge, the jury and the executioner" when he emptied his cartridge into Elena Rodriguez.
A $25 billion wall
But Sean Chapman, Swartz's attorney, painted a different picture. Chapman said his client "did what he had to do," adding that Swartz fired in response to a barrage of rocks that were being thrown from the Mexican side of the border.
One allegedly rock hit a US police dog, while another reportedly hit the foot of a US Border Patrol agent.
The defense attorney said his client's use of deadly force was lawful claiming that agents are not required to seek cover or retreat when under attack. Chapman told the court that the agents are trained to "eliminate the threat."
Chapman said Elena Rodriguez "made the conscious choice to put his own life at risk by attacking the agents with rocks."
Lee Gelernt, a New York-based attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said Swartz is the first US Border Agent to face prosecution by the US Justice Department in a deadly cross-border shooting.
Gelernt has filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of the teenager's mother, who is seeking monetary damages against Swartz.
"This historically important trial is coming at a time when all eyes are on the border," he said, referring to President Trump's efforts to build a $25 billion (€20 billion) wall along the 2,000-mile US-Mexican border.
bik/sms (Reuters, AP)