Indictment in Border Agent Death Behind Partisan Row

     TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) – Officials unsealed an indictment Monday charging five suspected bandits with the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry during a firefight near the U.S.-Mexico border in 2010.
     The indictment and $1 million award for information leading to the arrest of four of the suspects comes just over a week after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for withholding documents related to Operation Fast and Furious, a failed gun-walking plan.
     Two of the guns used in the operation were found at the scene of Terry’s murder in Peck Canyon, about 11 miles north of the border in southern Arizona.
     Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga, Ivan Soto-Barraza, Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes and Lionel Portillo-Meza face charges of first- and second-degree murder and other crimes. A sixth man, Rito Osorio-Arellanes, is charged with conspiring to interfere with commerce by robbery     
     The 11-count, third superseding indictment alleges that the defendants crossed the border illegally in December 2010 to rob smugglers, who often move drugs through the wild, remote area about 70 miles south of Tucson. Border Patrol Agents Terry, William Castano, Gabriel Fragoza and Timothy Keller crossed paths with the suspects and fired at them with nonlethal bean bag guns.
     When the bandits returned fire with real guns, Terry sustained fatal injuries. Only one suspect, Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, is currently in custody. The government is offering up to $1 million for information leading to the capture of the others.
     “Agent Terry served his country honorably and made the ultimate sacrifice in trying to protect it from harm, and we will stop at nothing to bring those responsible for his murder to justice,” Holder said in a statement. “This investigation has previously resulted in one defendant being charged with Agent Terry’s murder and taken into custody, and today’s announcement reflects the department’s unrelenting commitment to finding and arresting the other individuals responsible for this horrific tragedy so that Agent Terry’s family, friends and fellow law enforcement agents receive the justice they deserve.”
     Holder has called the contempt vote in the U.S. House of Representatives “misguided” and “politically motivated.”
     Though Republicans have criticized Holder over “gun walking,” Holder says the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms practice of putting illegal guns into the stream of commerce for tracking purposes has been in use for years.
     “When concerns about Operation Fast and Furious first came to light, I took action – and ordered an independent investigation into what happened,” Holder said in an earlier statement. “We learned that the flawed tactics used in this operation began in the previous administration – but I made sure that they ended under this one. I also made sure that agents and prosecutors around the country knew that such tactics must never be used again. I put in place new policies, new safeguards, and new leadership to make certain of this – and took extraordinary steps to facilitate robust congressional oversight. Let me be very clear – that was my response to Operation Fast and Furious. Any suggestion to the contrary simply ignores the facts.”
     Alleging a cover-up, Rep. Darrell Issa, R -Calif., invoked Terry’s murder in a June 20 statement claiming that Holder and President Obama had illegally withheld documents related to case.
     “We are still fighting for the truth and accountability – for the family of murdered Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, for whistleblowers who have faced retaliation, and for countless victims of Operation Fast and Furious in Mexico,” said Issa, who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “Unless President Obama relents to this bipartisan call for transparency and an end to the cover-up, our fight will move to the courts where we will prevail in getting the documents that the Justice Department and President Obama’s flawed assertion of executive privilege have denied the American people.”
     This case is being prosecuted in federal court in Tucson by attorneys from the Southern District of California. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona is recused.

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