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'Rip crew' member charged in murder of BP Agt. Brian Terry

One of the members of the five-man "rip crew" allegedly responsible for the 2010 murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was charged in federal court in Tucson on Wednesday.

Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes, who was extradited to the United States from Mexico on Monday, faces eight charges, including first-degree murder, for his alleged role in the shooting death of Terry, who was killed during a nighttime firefight in the rugged terrain near Rio Rico, south of Tucson, on Dec. 14, 2010.

Osorio-Arellanes appeared in the courtroom of U.S. Magistrate Judge Eric Markovich, who set a trial date of September 11. The accused man, who wore an Adidas sweatshirt, tan jeans and a scarf, must file a plea in the case by August 24.

Osorio-Arellanes remained quiet during the hearing, only saying "sí" when asked if he understood the charges against him.

Terry and three other BP agents, each members of the Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC) had set up a position in a remote area as part of an operation to apprehend a "rip crew"— a group who robbed drug smugglers at gunpoint — and encountered the five men, some of whom were armed with AK-47-style rifles, according to court documents filed in previous trials.

As the men approached, one the agents yelled "policia," or "police" in Spanish, and told the men to drop their weapons. A gunfight broke out, and Terry was fatally wounded by a bullet that hit him just above the hip.

One member of the rip-crew, Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, was wounded during the exchange of bullets and left in the desert. After his arrest, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2014.

The other men fled, resulting in a long-term manhunt in Mexico for the remaining members of the rip crew, as well as two other men who were indicted for their role in the conspiracy that ultimately led to Terry's death. All have been sentenced or are in custody in the United States or Mexico.

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Two men, Ivan Soto-Barraza and Lionel Portillo-Meza, were both found guilty by a federal jury in October 2015. Both received mandatory life sentences in the killing, along with an additional 10 years each for carrying a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. Both men were also sentenced to 20 years for conspiracy and assault on three federal agents, terms that will be served concurrently with their life sentences. 

In October 2015, Rosario Rafael Burboa-Alvarez was sentenced to 27 years in prison in a Tucson court for first-degree murder after he admitted that he recruited the members of the group in Mexico, who then entered the United States on foot and used caches of weapons and supplies hidden in the desert to intimidate smugglers into giving up their loads of marijuana. The group would then hand over the marijuana to other co-conspirators and sell the drugs for a profit.

Another man, Rito Osorio-Arellanes, whose brother, Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, was wounded during the firefight, later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery and was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2013.

Osorio-Arellanes and another man, Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga, were both arrested last year in Mexico. 

Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes or "Laco" was arrested last April by Mexican Marines on the border of northern Mexican states of Sinaloa and Chihuahua, while Favela-Astorga, the last remaining fugitive, was arrested in Mexico last October. 

After the murder of Terry, an investigation showed that one of two AK-47-patterned rifles used by the rip-crew was connected to a Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives investigation designed to track the sale of guns bought by straw purchasers in Phoenix-area gun stores and smuggled into Mexico.

However, the agency lost track of at least 2,000 of these weapons, including the one used to kill Terry. Ultimately, the agency recovered around 700 of the weapons.

The operation, dubbed "Fast and Furious," became the focus of a congressional investigation that ultimately led to a contempt hearing for former Attorney General Eric Holder.

Fallout from the case forced U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke to resign, and the U.S. Attorney's Office of Arizona had to recuse itself from trials connected to it.

Instead, prosecutors from the Southern District of California in San Diego are leading the prosecution.

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"The arrest and extradition of Osorio-Arellanes reflects the steadfast commitment and tireless work of the United States and our law enforcement partners in Mexico, who shared the common goal of seeking justice for the murder of Agent Brian Terry," said U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman.  "When an agent makes the ultimate sacrifice while serving his country, we must hold all the individuals who played a part in this tragic outcome accountable for their actions. This extradition moves that important goal forward," he said. 

Osorio-Arellanes will be arraigned in Tucson on Wednesday afternoon, Braverman said. 

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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Slain Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry