Suspect in Brian Terry death pleads not guilty
A man allegedly involved in the killing of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry arrived in Tucson on Tuesday night and was arraigned in federal court Wednesday.
Lionel Portillo-Meza is one of five men authorities say were involved in Terry's death during a gun battle in the Peck Canyon area west of Rio Rico in December 2010.
He pleaded not guilty to first and second-degree murder and other charges, and was held without bond.
Robert Heyer, Terry's cousin and chairman of the Brian Terry Foundation, confirmed Portillo-Meza's extradition and arraignment, as did federal officials.
"It is encouraging," Heyer said Wednesday. " We are very thankful, and grateful that the Mexican government has cooperated in pursuing justice."
"This marks a major step forward in our aggressive pursuit of those responsible for the murder of Agent Brian Terry, who made the ultimate service while serving his country," said Attorney General Eric Holder in a news release.
Portillo-Meza was indicted by a grand jury in September 2012.
In addition to the killing of Terry, the indictment alleged that he and others conspired to arm themselves and rob marijuana loads being smuggled in Southern Arizona.
The indictment included other charges against Portillo-Meza: conspiracy to intereere with commerce by robbery, attempted interferece with commerce by robbery, four counts of assault on a federal officer, and using a firearm during a crime of violence.
Other members of the rip crew were indicted on multiple counts.
Portillo-Meza, also known as Jesus Leonel Sanchez-Meza, is the first suspect in the case to be extradited from Mexico to the U.S. He was arrested in Puerto Peñasco in September 2012.
A member of the rip crew, Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, was wounded during the shootout and later arrested near the scene. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison in February, after pleading guilty to first-degree murder in the case.
A third man, Ivan Soto-Barraza, has been in custody in Mexico since 2013. Authorities are still working to extradite him.
The two other suspects, Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes and Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga are still at large in Mexico. A $250,000 reward has been offered for the arrest of each.
In addition to the murder of Agent Terry, the indictment alleged that the defendants assaulted Border Patrol Agents William Castano, Gabriel Fragoza, and Timothy Keller, who were with Terry during the firefight.
The Portillo-Meza case was transfered to the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Deigo after fallout from the Fast and Furious investigation resulted in the resignation former U.S. attorney for Arizona, Dennis Burke.
Two of the weapons involved in the Fast and Furious investigation were found at the scene of Terry's death.
Another hearing in the case is scheduled for next month.
"This development brings us one step closer to achieving justice for a beloved agent who paid the highest price in protecting this country," U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said in a release. "While there is nothing that can be done to bring Agent Terry home again, we hope this news will bring some level of comfort to the family knowing that our team of prosecutors and investigators within the Department of Justice will not stop until the case is resolved."