published Friday, July 1st, 2011

Feds seek life sentence in border agent's death

SAN DIEGO — Federal prosecutors want a Mexican man sentenced to life in prison for striking and killing a Border Patrol agent with a drug-laden Hummer as the officer laid spike strips in an attempt to puncture the vehicle's tires.

Jesus Navarro didn't intend to kill the agent, only avoid the spikes, says his attorney, who recommends that a judge deliver a 40-year prison sentence Friday.

A jury deliberated only two hours in April before convicting Navarro of second-degree murder and conspiracy to distribute marijuana in the death of Agent Luis Aguilar at a campground in California's Imperial Sand Dunes near the Arizona border in January 2008.

Navarro, 25, was extradited to the United States last year.

Shortly after Aguilar died, Navarro was arrested in Mexico and signed a detailed confession — after authorities beat and threatened him, he later said — that acknowledged a split-second choice to hit the 32-year-old Border Patrol agent instead of the spikes. He was held in Mexican prison until a judge cleared him of unrelated migrant smuggling charges and released him five months later.

The Mexican government said at the time the United States didn't ask to arrange for Navarro's extradition until after he was released.

The U.S. government was offering a reward of up to $350,000 when Mexican agents arrested him again, in February 2009, near Zihuatenejo.

Navarro testified at his two-week trial that he was in the central Mexican state of Sinaloa on the day Aguilar was killed and that Mexican authorities who were working closely with U.S. officials forced him to confess to a crime he didn't commit.

Navarro testified that he stopped driving loads of drugs after a 2007 run-in with the Border Patrol. David Bartick, his attorney, told jurors that Navarro was "basically expelled" from his drug smuggling organization.

Prosecutors highlighted testimony of Navarro's collaborators that he remained an active smuggler after the 2007 incident. Eyewitnesses to Aguilar's killing identified Navarro as the driver in photos.

His 9-year-old daughter and other family wrote U.S. District Judge Michael Anello to plead for leniency.

"He is a responsible person who does not deserve to be in there," wrote Karla Nunez, his wife of 10 years with whom he had three children. "Please don't give him too much time, his children need him."

Aguilar is one of 23 Border Patrol agents who have died in the line of duty since 1990. The married father of two children had been an agent for nearly six years and was assigned to the Yuma, Ariz., sector.

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