Sponsored by


Note: This story is more than 3 years old.

No More Deaths trial: Warren testifies, prosecutors call final witness

Scott Warren, a No More Deaths volunteer who faces federal conspiracy and harboring charges stemming from his arrest by U.S. Border Patrol in January 2018, wound up his testimony Thursday as his defense finished their case, and prosecutors submitted a final rebuttal witness. 

Warren, a 36-year-old geography professor, told the court that he never intended to break the law, and never thought he was breaking the law when he invited two men to rest and recuperate and receive medical attention, along with food and water, after they walked for two days in the desert last year. Both turned out to be in the country without authorization.

If convicted and sentenced to consecutive terms, Warren could face more than two decades behind bars.

He is on trial for one count of criminal conspiracy to transport and harbor illegal aliens and two counts of harboring aliens, after he was arrested in January 2018 by Border Patrol agents at "the Barn," a ramshackle house used as a staging point for aid organizations trying to stem what volunteers have called a "humanitarian crisis" in the deserts west and south of Ajo, an unincorporated town about 110 miles west of Tucson.

For more than two hours Thursday morning and again for more than 90 minutes after lunch, Warren testified that he was trying to help the men, and that their condition, including blistered feet, scratches on their hands, and bruised ribs, required medical attention. He outlined a complicated week, where he worked to help organize a search team to recover human remains in the remote Growler Valley, west of Ajo, and prepare and teach classes, and manage the logistics as a high school group from Flagstaff was soon arriving. 

During that week last January, the two men suddenly arrived,Warren testified, and so he helped them until on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, when he saw a "convoy" of Border Patrol trucks, sheriff's department vehicles, and unmarked cars heading along the road leading to the Barn. Warren also testified that within minutes of the agents' arrival at the private property, he was under arrest and put in handcuffs. 

That afternoon, two Border Patrol agents— John Marquez and Brendan Burns—said they set up an observation post about 200-300 yards from the Barn, just across from a rural road on a patch of federally owned land. After they observed the Barn for more than 90 minutes, Warren came out with two men, later identified as Kristian Perez-Villanueva, 23, and Jose Arnaldo Sacaria-Goday, 23.

Prosecutors have worked hard to present the case that Warren was connected to one of the men, Perez-Villanueva, through a mutual acquaintance, and that he communicated with this other  man, Irineo Mujica, on the days before they crossed. 

Prosecutors also pointed jurors to the fact that on Jan. 12, 2018, Warren and other volunteers visited a shelter in Sonoyta, a Mexican border town just south of Ajo along Highway 85, and that night Perez-Villanueva and Sacaria-Goday both decided to climb the fence separating the U.S. and Mexico and head northward. 

Warren testified that from Sunday, when the two men arrived, to the Wednesday that he was arrested by Border Patrol agents, he spent only around four hours at the Barn, and that on Wednesday, the two men were preparing to leave when he took them outside and pointed to two peaks to the north, Child's Mountain and Hat Mountain. 

Warren said that he did so because Highway 85 runs between the mountains and that if the men wanted "to self-rescue if they got into trouble" they should head toward the only paved road for dozens of hundreds of miles. Beyond that road, there was only a bombing range until Gila Bend, and to the west it was 80 to 100 miles before they could get to Yuma. 

Warren however denied he told the men how to bypass a Border Patrol checkpoint, saying that the men were "already aware" of it, and that instead, it was "critical" that the men stay with the highway, "the only piece of civilization out there." 

During Warren's testimony, defense lawyer Greg Kuykendall asked him why he followed the law, even when he cares so much about humanitarian aid. 

"Because, spending our time getting food, water and medical aid to people in need is what we want to do, not here," Warren said, gesturing to the courtroom. "And, we need to be clear about that humanitarian aid is imperative."

Earlier in the week, Warren told the court that he feels "compelled" to help those who "stumble" out of the desert into Ajo, and that doing so is "good and right, especially in a place that feels like a low-intensity conflict."

Warren's indictment and prosecution came after former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, later sacked by the White House, told prosecutors to prioritize cases involving harboring of migrants, one of several moves made by the Trump administration as part of hard-nosed policies designed to deter illegal immigration.

'Brutal, brutal journey'

During his testimony, Warren outlined how he spent his week, including the day the men arrived. 

On Sunday, Warren said he stayed in town so that he could manage logistics between volunteers working in the desert in the Growler Valley, and the Pima County Sheriff’s Department. 

Support TucsonSentinel.com today, because a smarter Tucson is a better Tucson!

He said he went to the agency’s Ajo station, and then called a deputy, identified only as Deputy Olson, and worked to ensure that sheriff’s personnel would head out to recover the remains. He also called the volunteers on a satellite phone, but couldn’t remember if he got an answer. Warren testified that while the volunteers were recovering human remains, he went grocery shopping so that he could have dinner prepared when they returned. Warren testified that after he parked his car, he unloaded his groceries and as he walked up to the Barn, he found Perez-Villanueva and Sacaria-Goday standing in the doorway to the bathroom. Warren told the court that he said hello, and asked the men who they were, and then men asked if they could help him with the groceries. 

Warren said he brought the men into the building, and then after putting away some perishable goods, he asked them how they got to the Barn, and Perez-Villanueva told him that he “talked to people and someone told” the two men to walk to the barn. Perez-Villanueva told him that they “walked through the neighborhood to get there,” Warren testified. 

When asked how he knew the men needed help, Warren said, "Anyone who puts themselves in the situation of crossing the desert has put themselves to the test," Warren said. "It's a brutal, brutal journey." 

After he put perishables into the refrigerator, he started doing a medical assessment of the pair, and then had the men remove their shoes so he could inspect blisters on both of their feet. According to medical notes —known as "subjective, objective, assessment,and plan" or SOAP notes — written that day, Warren found that after two days of walking, Perez-Villanueva had a nickel and a dime-sized blister on his foot, along with scratches on his hand, while Sacaria-Goday had a quarter-sized blister and a nickel-sized blister on one foot, and a dime-sized blister on his toes. Sacaria-Goday also complained of pain on his upper torso, just below his left armpit, Warren said. 

Warren was concerned about their condition, especially because their minor medical issues, including cold symptoms could be "really dangerous for a person in the desert," he said. 

Warren was one of at least three people who treated the two men for medical issues, including a NMD volunteer and EMT named Mike, and Susannah Brown, a registered nurse, who testified on Tuesday. 

Warren said that he handed off care to Mike, “so I could do other things,” he said. And, that he later went home after dinner. 

While others came and went, and at least three members of No More Deaths were still inside the Barn on Jan. 17, only Warren was arrested. 

Washington Post op-ed read in front of jury

In a remarkable moment Thursday, Nathaniel Walters, assistant U.S. attorney, brought out sections of an op-ed Warren wrote for the Washington Post. The piece, titled "I gave water to migrants crossing the Arizona desert. They charged me with a felony," was published on May 28, just before jury selection, and in court, Walters argued that Warren had either misstated or underplayed details of his arrest, and repeatedly questioned him about it. However, Warren's defense lawyer Greg Kuykendall asked the court if the entire article could be submitted into the record, and after a sidebar U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins agreed. 

With the article in hand, Kuykendall began to read the first sections of the piece, and Walters objected. So, the defense attorney handed the document to Warren, and the professor began to read the next section. Exasperated, Walters objected, asking, "Is there a question about this?" 

Collins responded, "I think the question is, can you read the rest of the article that the government didn't read." And, so Warren read his own words in front of the jury, including a section where he wrote that his case in particular "may set a dangerous precedent, as the government expands its definitions of 'transportation' and 'harboring.'" 

"The Trump administration’s policies — warehousing asylees, separating families, caging children — seek to impose hardship and cruelty. For this strategy to work, it must also stamp out kindness," Warren read aloud. 

After Warren finished, Collins said to Kuykendall, "What's your next question?" 

Warren responded to several juror questions, including a question about whether he or other No More Deaths volunteers encrypted their communications, and whether he had communicated with either Perez-Villanueva or Sacaria-Goday. 

The prosecution brought forward as a rebuttal witness, BP Agent Gerardo Carrasco, a paramedic for agency and a member of the Border Search Trauma and Rescue unit, or BORSTAR, a specially trained group of agents who are often involved in rescues and medical evacuations in Southern Arizona. 

Carrasco said that the agency doesn't always respond to calls from people reporting that they are lost, or known someone who is lost, because of "ruse calls" that seek to send agents away from smuggling groups, or because the lack the "level of information to initiate" a search. And, he said, the agency doesn't always tell civilian groups if it's working on a search for a lost person or for human remains because of operational security. 

Carrasco did echo Warren's idea about being a patient advocate, but disagreed with the idea that a medical professional should ask for permission to call 911, a particular issue that the prosecution has focused on throughout the jury trial. 

Support TucsonSentinel.com today, because a smarter Tucson is a better Tucson.

During cross-examination, Kuykendall asked Carrasco if he knew about "prevention through deterrence," a 1994 strategy written up in a memo by the director of Immigration and Naturalization Services at that time, that became the backbone of the U.S. Border Patrol's strategy from then on.  Carrasco didn't know about the idea. 

Kuykendall pressed hard, asking the agent that if BORSTAR was created in 1998, why was there a "rapid loss of life" from 2000 to 2019, when nearly 3,000 human remains have been discovered in Arizona's southern deserts, including what an earlier witness—geologist Ed McCullough who regularly builds maps showing migrant deaths—called a "trail of death." 

"I've not heard that number sir," said the agent, who testified earlier that he has been working for the last 20 years on medical issues and training at the agency. "Does it matter to you," asked Kuykendall. "Yes, sir. It does," the agent responded. 

Carrasco also said that he regularly treated blisters by cushioning the wound with moleskin, or even duct-tape in a pinch, and that he and other agents regularly worked with blistered feet, but Kuykendall asked if that was as an agent, with a "air-conditioned truck" with "plenty of water," and agents who can help. 

Summations in the trial are slated to begin at 9 a.m. on Friday. 

- 30 -
have your say   

1 comment on this story

Jun 7, 2019, 6:31 am
- +

It saddens me that the country is so divided that we now try to put a good Samaritan in prison. I only hope the jury can see through the farce of this prosecution and the malice of the present administration.

Sorry, we missed your input...

You must be logged in or register to comment

Read all of TucsonSentinel.com's
coronavirus reporting here »

Click image to enlarge


'The Barn' just outside of Ajo, Arizona.


news, politics & government, border, crime & safety, faith, family/life, local, arizona, breaking