Border Agent Facing Trial For Manslaughter Denied Venue Change

Published: Tuesday, October 2, 2018 - 5:57pm
Updated: Thursday, October 4, 2018 - 10:32am

A federal judge ruled this week that a Border Patrol agent who shot through the border fence and killed a teenager standing in Mexico will face his second felony trial in Tucson.

Lawyers for Lonnie Swartz had argued last summer that Swartz could not get a fair trial in Tucson because of the amount of news coverage and publicity for the high-profile shooting case.

Last Monday, the judge refused the request but added that he’d reconsider it if the southern Arizona jury showed a bias against him during selection.

Swartz goes to trial on a manslaughter charge in late October. A jury already found him not guilty of second-degree murder. He has never argued that he didn't fire into Mexico. Instead, defense attorneys have said the teenager, Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez was part of a group throwing rocks at law enforcement to help a pair of escaping drug smugglers climb back over the border fence separating Nogales, Ariz., from Nogales, Mexico, to escape arrest.

Swartz's lawyers had argued there was too much news coverage in southern Arizona of the 2012 shooting, and too much coverage that was sympathetic to the teenager. They wanted the upcoming October trial moved to Phoenix. 

As part of the government’s case, prosecutors said last month they may introduce a text message Swartz sent to a second Border Patrol agent indicted for running over a suspect last winter. Matthew Bowen was indicted last May, accused of driving his vehicle into a victim, injuring the person in Nogales. He faces a second charge of lying to Office of Inspector General investigators about the incident when he submitted a file stating he wasn't sure he'd struck the person and that he had no intention of injuring or scaring the person.

Between November last year and March 2018, Swartz and Bowen text messaged each other. Swartz texted: "I've always stood by my actions that night. I've never second guessed myself. Never. I think the ausa (sic, Assistant U.S. Attorney) would rather have us run away like cowards and have our Agents hit by rocks than to defend ourselves F*** that. I will never take a plea for defending myself and others. My partner Wynecoop was hit is damn grateful I stopped the threat. I'm sure Officer Zuniga is too."

Officer Zuniga is Nogales police officer John Zuniga. During the second-degree murder trial last spring, Zuniga told the jury that he felt scared during the rock attack but never felt the need to use lethal force and didn't feel he was in grave danger.

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