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Marriott reverses, will permit press at Bannon speech in Tucson

A Tucson resort has changed its mind about barring reporters from a speech by Steven Bannon, the ousted White House strategist who returned to his post at Breitbart News. Bannon will keynote a dinner benefiting the Brian Terry Foundation on Saturday.

The JW Marriott Starr Pass hotel had earlier told event organizers that the press would not be allowed to cover the speech. Some Tucson activists have discussed protesting the event, because of Bannon's appearance, but no firm plans have been made public.

According to a PR firm hired by the foundation, "Once the Marriott's leadership team began to receive negative comments from some members in the community, a hotel official suddenly contacted dinner organizers and said that news media would not be allowed on property to cover the event. That decision has now been reversed and media are permitted."

"We are pleased Marriott has decided to change its decision and allow media coverage," said Robert Heyer, Terry's cousin and the foundation's chairman. "Brian served and died for his country and a key principle of this nation is a free press."

The foundation, which earlier Tuesday publicly blasted Marriott for the plan to block the media, was established by the family of the Border Patrol agent killed in a 2010 gunfight with cartel operatives south of Tucson.

Terry's sister, Kelly Terry-Willis, blasted what she said was "Marriott’s self-serving goal of avoiding what they consider bad publicity."

Bannon will be presented with the Brian Terry Courage in Journalism and Reporting Award to mark Breitbart's reporting on the Fast and Furious probe of drug cartel straw buyers and gun-smuggling.

Bannon, a hardline nationalist, was pushed out of the turbulent administration by President Donald Trump in August, losing his post as chief strategist after he clashed with other top advisors. Bannon was CEO of Trump's presidential campaign, a post he left the top job at Breitbart to take.

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The Brian Terry Foundation honors the memory of the slain border agent by assisting the families of Border Patrol agents and offering scholarships to criminal justice students, foundation representatives said. The group also advocates for more stringent border enforcement.

Also appearing at the Nov. 18 event will be ATF Agent John Dodson, who will be given the Brian Terry Profiles in Courage Award. Dodson was a whistleblower about the failures of Operation Fasts and Furious.

Norma Zimdahl will be given the Brian Terry Courage and Heroism in the Community Award. Zimdahl, a retired Broadway performer, will be recognized for her community contributions, including support for the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, and the Heritage Foundation.

Tickets are $50 and $125 for the dinner at the J.W. Marriott Starr Pass Resort, which will be hosted by Fox News's William La Jeunesse.

Previous speakers and honorees at the group's events include former U.S. Reps. Gabrielle Giffords and Ron Barber, reporter Sharyl Attkisson, Rep. Darrell Issa, Gov. Doug Ducey, and BP Agent Eric Gough.

Terry's murder

Terry was killed during a nighttime shooout in rugged terrain near Rio Rico, south of Tucson, on Dec. 14, 2010.

Terry and three other BP agents, each members of the Border Patrol Tactical Unit 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.

A semi-automatic weapon that ATF investigators lost track of was found at the scene of Terry's death.

The final member of the five-man "rip crew" allegedly responsible for Terry's Dec. 14, 2010, murder was arrested in Mexico last month.

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Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga, 37, faces extradition on first-degree murder charges for the his alleged role in Terry's death.

He was the last remaining fugitive after Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes was arrested on April 17 by Mexican officials. He also faces extradition to the United States.

One man, 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.

Two other men, Ivan Soto-Barraza and Lionel Portillo-Meza, were both found guilty by a federal jury in October 2015. Both men were given 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.

Along with the five-man rip crew, two other men were indicted for their role in the conspiracy that ultimately led to Terry's death.

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.

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 operation 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 case.

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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Steve Bannon, February 2017