Bush Commutes Sentences Of Two Border Agents
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
In his final full day in office, President Bush commuted the sentences of two former Border Patrol agents. The agents were convicted of shooting an alleged drug dealer near the U.S.-Mexico border. The agents' case became a cause celebre among anti-immigration groups, and they cheered the president's action today. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR: Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean were patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border east of El Paso, Texas, in February 2005. They were after a man who had jumped from a van. The van, it turned out, was stuffed with marijuana. The agents shot the suspect in the buttocks as he was fleeing, believing, they said, he was armed.
But a federal prosecutor brought a case against the two. He said no gun ever turned up. The agents wrongfully fired their weapons, failed to report the shooting, and then tried to cover up what they had done by picking up spent shell casings. A jury agreed, finding the pair guilty of a number of crimes, and the judge sentenced the men - Compean to 12 years, Ramos to 11.
Conservatives were outraged, arguing the pair were only trying to enforce the law. Congress held hearings, and activist groups sent petitions to the president urging a pardon. Today, in what could be his final act of clemency, the president commuted both sentences. Their supporters are ecstatic. Ron De Jong of grassfire.org said the two former agents were scapegoats.
Mr. RON DE JONG (Director of Communications, Grassfire): They were doing their job. Were mistakes made? Yes. But those mistakes shouldn't have ever gotten the kind of punishment that these guys got.
NAYLOR: Still, there is some grumbling that the pair will continue to be held until March, when their commutations take effect. The two will also have to pay their fines and submit to three years of supervised release. T.J. Bonner of the National Border Patrol Council, the union representing Border Patrol agents, hopes the U.S. Supreme Court will still take up the agents' case.
Mr. T.J. BONNER (President, National Border Patrol Council): These men did nothing wrong. They've defended themselves against an armed drug smuggler, and I'm hopeful that when the Supreme Court looks at all the facts there, they will reach the same conclusion.
NAYLOR: White House officials reportedly say these are likely to be the last acts of clemency by President Bush. Mr. Bush has used his pardon and commutation powers less often than his predecessors, and it appears he will not be granting pardons in two high-profile cases: former White House aide Lewis Libby, and former Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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