After five postponements, the trial of a Border Patrol agent who shot through the U.S.-Mexico border fence and killed a 16-year-old Sonoran began on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in Tucson, Ariz.
The trial of Lonnie Swartz, the first Border Patrol agent to be federally charged in a cross-border use-of-force death, began more than five years after the incident occurred in Nogales. Swartz is charged with second-degree murder, Tucson.com reported.
According to Asst. U.S. Attorney Mary Sue Feldmeier, the incident occurred as Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez was throwing rocks over the fence to assist drug smugglers by serving as a distraction. The smugglers were returning to Mexico after leaving backpacks of marijuana the U.S.
Feldmeier argued that the teen did not deserve to die for throwing rocks, and that Swartz “became the judge, the jury and the executioner.”
Prosecutors acknowledge that Elena Rodríguez was throwing rocks and apparently trying to aid drug smugglers, but contend that those actions are legally irrelevant to the question of whether Swartz was justified in firing through the fence.
“This is not a drug-trafficking case,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Wallace Kleindienst said. “This is simply a case about whether Elena Rodriguez presented a threat of serious bodily injury or death (to Swartz) regardless of his motives.”
Defense attorney Sean Chapman argued that Swartz was justified in using deadly force against rock throwers aiding drug smugglers, and was acting to protect himself and other agents when he fired across the border.
Chapman contended that Elena Rodriguez endangered himself by throwing rocks at the agent, noting that rocks thrown that night by others hit another agent in the foot and also struck a police dog.
Since pleading not guilty in the 2012 shooting, Swartz has been free on his own recognizance.
Elena Rodriguez was shot on a street in Nogales, Mexico, which is located across the border from Nogales, Arizona. An autopsy revealed that the teen was shot 10 times.
The following news report occurred in 2015, when the border agent was indicted in the shooting.