TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) – A humanitarian aid worker on trial for a second time for helping two undocumented immigrants in Arizona never intended to break the law and without that intent there is no crime, his attorney told the jury in opening arguments in a federal court in Arizona Tuesday.
Scott Warren, 37, is a volunteer for the nonprofit No More Deaths who was arrested Jan. 17, 2018, in rural Ajo, Arizona. He is charged with two counts of harboring undocumented immigrants for helping Kristian Gerardo Perez-Villanueva, from El Salvador and Jose Arnaldo Sacaria-Godoy from Guatemala.
Before the jury was seated, U.S. District Judge Raner Collins, a Bill Clinton appointee, granted prosecutors' pretrial motion asking the court to ban any mention of President Donald Trump during the trial.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anna Wright said she filed the motion "in an abundance of caution" after a prospective juror said on a questionnaire that they could be neutral “as long as Trump wasn’t mentioned.”
Defense attorney Greg Kuykendall told Collins that the Trump administration is the entire reason the trial is happening and that, without the president’s crackdown on immigrants, Warren would never have been charged.
“The government built this felony prosecution on false assumptions,” Kuykendall told the jury. “It’s a house of cards built on a faulty foundation of assumptions Tabout Scott’s intentions.”
Warren’s only intent was to keep people alive in a hostile desert environment where thousands of people have died, Kuykendall said.
Prosecutors originally claimed Warren conspired with Mexican aid worker Irineo Mujica and nurse Susannah Brown – neither of whom has been charged – to help the men enter the U.S. near Sonoyta, Mexico. In June, a jury deadlocked on conspiracy and harboring charges.
Prosecutors then offered Warren a misdemeanor plea deal, which he rejected.
Wright told the jury Tuesday that Warren did intend to break the law, because he purposely hid the men from Border Patrol agents in the “barn,” a ramshackle house on five acres of desert at the edge of Ajo.
The men had lost their camouflage clothing and needed help to avoid a Border Patrol checkpoint north of Ajo, she said.
“They got to stay, with the defendant’s permission, inside the barn, safe from the Border Patrol,” she told the jury.
Wright showed the jury photos the men took in the hours before they arrived in Ajo, which is about 30 miles north of Mexico. A photo showed one of the men holding a sports drink he had purchased using some of the $40 a stranger had given to them, which they also used to buy a burrito. Another photo, a selfie, showed one of the men shirtless and apparently uninjured in the barn.
The men didn’t need help or food, they weren’t dehydrated - they just needed to hide, Wright said.
Kuykendall repeated the word “intent” throughout his 50-minute opening argument.
Warren did not offer a ride, a phone number, a place to hide or directions, according to the immigrants themselves, who testified for the prosecution in exchange for immunity, Kuykendall said.
All Warren was doing, according to the attorney, was carrying out his life’s passion: helping people stay alive in a place where the county medical examiner has identified more than 3,000 dead immigrants in recent years.
The trial is scheduled to run for eight days.
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