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Last 'rip-crew' member charged with murdering BP Agent Brian Terry

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Last 'rip-crew' member charged with murdering BP Agent Brian Terry

  • BP Agent Brian Terry
    CBPBP Agent Brian Terry

The last man to face charges for the 2010 gunfight that killed Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry near Nogales, Ariz., was arraigned in federal court on Monday. 

Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga was charged with first-degree murder in Terry's death. He is the last of seven men believed to be part of a "rip crew"— a group of men who robbed drug smugglers at gunpoint — who exchanged gunfire with four Border Patrol agents, each a member of the elite Border Patrol Tactical Unit, on Dec. 14, 2010.

Favela-Astorga was arraigned in federal court by U.S. District Judge Jacqueline M. Rateau, and faces several charges, including first-degree murder. According to court records, Favela-Astorga pleaded not guilty, and will face a jury trial beginning March 17. 

Favela-Astorga was arrested by Mexican officials in October 2017, and was finally extradited to the United States on Friday, January 31, said U.S. Attorney Robert S. Brewer Jr. of the Southern District of California.

Earlier this year, on Jan. 8,  Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes, or "Laco" was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the killing after he was found guilty by a jury nearly a year earlier. 

Six members of the group have been found guilty on various charges — four of them for murder—leaving only Favela-Astorga un-tried by a federal court. 

Terry, and BP Agents William Castano, Gabriel Fragoza and Timothy Keller had set up a position in a remote area south of Tucson known as Mesquite Seep, as part of an operation to apprehend the group of bandits, who were armed with AK-47-style rifles, said David D. Leshner, an assistant U.S. attorney, during February's trial.

The team had been in position for nearly 48 hours, and were ready to leave, when an observation post told them that men were approaching from the east. As the armed men came close, one the agents yelled "policia," or "police" in Spanish, and told the men to drop their weapons. Agent Fragoza testified he saw the men turn toward him, with their rifles at the "ready" position, so he fired a shotgun containing beanbag rounds, and at some point the men returned fire, firing at least five rounds from their AK-47-patterned rifles.

During the exchange of gunfire, Terry was fatally wounded by a bullet that hit him in the back just above the hip, hitting his spine and severing his aorta.

Terry yelled to Castano, "Will, I'm hit." As Castano tried to treat Terry's injury, Terry said, "I can't feel my legs," and lost consciousness. Terry died in the desert west of Rio Rico, Ariz., as the relief team attempted to carry him to a waiting helicopter.

The case became central to a firestorm of criticism against Obama-era officials, after an investigation showed that one of two AK-47-type 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 guns.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.

Terry's family sued the federal government, but in 2016, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's ruling that there are "congressionally-mandated remedies" that are already in place for the survivors of an agent killed in the line of duty. 

During the firefight, Osorio-Arellanes' brother, Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, was also wounded and left in the desert. He was arrested, and later 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 roles in the conspiracy that ultimately led to Terry's death.

Osorio-Arellanes was arrested in 2017 by Mexican Marines on the border of northern Mexican states of Sinaloa and Chihuahua, after his brother Rito Osorio-Arellanes, had been arrested two days earlier by Border Patrol agents in the same area. After officials connected the brothers to the "rip crew," he was charged as well. He later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery, and was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2013.

Two other 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.

Last week, an appellate court affirmed their conviction, rejecting an argument that the two men had been improperly extradited. 

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.

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