Jury Debates Fate of Arizonan Caught Helping Immigrants

A Customs and Border Control agent patrols the U.S. side of a razor-wire-covered border wall along the Mexico east of Nogales, Ariz., on March 2, 2019. A border activist charged with helping a pair of migrants with water, food and lodging is on trial in U.S. court in Arizona. Defendant Scott Daniel Warren has argued that his spiritual values compel him to help all people in distress. The trial is began May 29, 2019, in Tucson, with the 36-year-old Warren charged with harboring migrants and conspiring to transport and harbor two Mexican men found with him who were in the U.S. illegally. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) – An Arizona humanitarian aid worker charged with harboring undocumented immigrants testified he feels like he has no choice but to help the people who cross Arizona’s deadly desert, but he never intended to break the law when he gave two men food, water and a place to sleep for two nights.

Scott Warren, 36, of the nonprofit No More Deaths, knows more than 3,000 bodies have been collected from the Arizona desert by the Pima County Sheriff’s Department. He feels obligated to reduce the scale of that death.

“How could you not? It’s kind of who I am in my training and who I’ve come to be through my life experiences,” Warren, a college geography instructor, testified Thursday.

Warren was arrested Jan. 17, 2018, with undocumented immigrants Kristian Gerardo Perez-Villanueva from El Salvador and Jose Arnaldo Sacaria-Godoy from Guatemala at a ramshackle former machine shop known as the “barn,” where No More Deaths stores supplies and launches search missions for missing people.

Prosecutors claim Warren conspired with Mexican aid worker Irineo Mujica to help the men get to Ajo, about 30 miles north of the border. Warren faces more than 20 years if convicted on all counts.

In closing arguments Friday, prosecutor Anna Wright connected events leading up to the men’s arrest, charging that taken together, they show a conspiracy. She urged the jury to look at the timeline of events.

Sacaria-Godoy and Perez-Villanueve came to Sonoyta, Mexico, last fall and began planning their trip north together, they testified via deposition. Perez-Villanueva was staying in a shelter founded and run by Mujica, and Sacaria-Godoy in an abandoned house nearby, the men said.

On Jan. 11, 2018, Warren called Mujica, with whom he had not communicated since October 2017, and on Jan. 12 he went to the shelter with nurse Susannah Brown, another No More Deaths volunteer, ostensibly to deliver fresh water and other supplies, Wright said.

Brown, Wright noted, had met Perez-Villanueva in December at a holiday meal.

That same night – Jan. 12 – the two men climbed the border fence outside Sonoyta. They walked for two nights, resting in the day between, they testified.

Although both men testified their only goal was “north,” they made a beeline for Ajo, Wright said, where Mujica was waiting to give them a ride to the barn to meet Warren, who showed up there shortly after the immigrants.

“It’s not a colossal coincidence,” she said.

Wright showed the jury smiling selfies the men took at the barn, including a shirtless one taken by Sacaria-Godoy. Medical notes written minutes before by Warren say Sacaria-Godoy was complaining of rib pain.

“There’s not a scratch on him,” Wright told the jury. “He’s happy. He feels good.”

Two Border Patrol agents who had watched the barn covertly for several days before Warren’s arrest – Brendan Burns and John Marquez – saw Warren step outside the barn with the two immigrants and gesture toward the north on Jan. 17. He didn’t point south, the agents testified, only north, where there was a Border Patrol checkpoint between the men and the rest of the nation.

“The information that was critical was how to get north and avoid that checkpoint,” Wright said.

But the International Red Cross code of conduct, which No More Deaths used as a basis for their protocols, lists orientation – knowing where you are – as a basic human right alongside food, water and shelter, Warren and others testified.

Pointing out immoveable objects in the distance, such as mountains, is a normal part of that, testified Warren and Geena Johnson, a No More Death volunteer who helped write the guidelines.

In his closing argument Friday, defense attorney Gregory Kuykendall called the prosecutors’ version of events a “supposed conspiracy,” noting Warren’s own emails from the fall before his arrest explain his communication with Mujica in advance of the visit.

Warren’s email to other volunteers tells them to always touch base with the Mexican shelter operator before going there, he said, but prosecutors never even reviewed it.

Prosecutors could have presented that email as evidence and interviewed or arrested Mujuca, because Agent Burns interviewed him two weeks after Warren’s arrest at a Border Patrol checkpoint. He was not asked about Warren, Kuykendall said.

“Why didn’t they do that? That right there represents a gigantic, gaping reasonable doubt,” he told the jury, calling it an “intentional absence of evidence.”

The entire case is built on “supposition,” since no one knows what Warren and Mujica discussed on the phone the day before Warren’s visit to Sonoyta.

Prosecutors asked numerous witnesses why they didn’t call police or Border Patrol, but Warren testified Wednesday and Kuykendall noted Friday that even the Border Patrol admits no one is obligated to call police if they know someone is in the country illegally.

“I think that actually is offensive to some people, but it’s the law in this country,” he said.

He urged the jury not to be taken in by the prosecution’s smokescreen of “what ifs.”

The jury began deliberating shortly after noon Friday.

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