Opening Arguments In Border Patrol Agent's Second-Degree Murder Trial

March 21, 2018

Thirty-four seconds; that’s how long the entire shooting incident lasted in October 2012 when Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz fired into Mexico.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Sue Feldmeier said Wednesday that Swartz was never under immediate threat and that he "calmly and deliberately" walked up to the border wall made of bollards, pulled out his gun and fired into Mexico, killing Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez. Swartz, Feldmeier said, then reloaded for eight seconds, placed his gun back between the bollards, and shot him again.

She said Swartz fired 16 times, striking the teenager twice in the head and eight times in the back. 

Feldmeier started her opening arguments by acknowleding that Elena Rodriguez was attacking the agents with stones but said Swartz became the "judge, jury and executioner."

“This is not an immigration case, this is not a drug case. This is a second-degree murder case," she told the jury.

To arrive at the second-degree murder conviction, prosecutors will have to prove to the jury that Swartz maliciously intended to kill the teenager and that he fired from the border region, the 60-foot wide strip of land that the border and the border road sits on.

Feldmeier is a veteran U.S. prosecutor who over past dozen years has won convictions against corrupt federal agents tied to cocaine traffickers, money launderers and at least one case where an Immigrationa and Customs Enforcement deportation officer was carrying on a live-in relationship with an undocumented immigrant.

Her opponent is veteran attorney Sean Chapman who once worked with Feldmeier. He prosecuted the only man ever charged with the 2002 murder of U.S. National Park Service ranger Kris Eggle at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

As the Border Patrol's Tucson Local 2544 union's attorney, Chapman defended Nicholas Corbett, an agent accused of killing an undocumented immigrant near Naco, Ariz., in 2007. The trials ended in two hung juries and is a case Chapman clearly considers a win. He lists it under the "Notable Cases" section of his firm's website.

Chapman argued that Swartz was scared. He said Swartz cried and vomited after killing the teenager. He admonished Swartz's accusers, saying, "The sanitized way the government presented their case, there's no relation to the truth."

He told the jury that drug smuggling is a big business and that the 22 pounds dropped by smugglers earlier that October night amounted to about $19,000 in street value. 

He said that an informant working for the FBI in Nogales, Mexico, went to the murder scene and was told by two other stone throwers that they and Elena Rodriguez were part of the drug crew. He also said that a confidential informant in Nogales, Ariz., had earlier that night seen Elena Rodriguez in the neighborhood of her home near the border. 

Chapman said Swartz didn't have a choice but to open fire that night.

“Agents are allowed and sometimes required to use deadly force to respond to rock throwing," he told the jury.

The trial is expected to last about three weeks.