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Scott Warren found not guilty by jury in No More Deaths case

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Warren trial

Scott Warren found not guilty by jury in No More Deaths case

  •  Scott Warren at federal court in May.
    Paul Ingram/ Scott Warren at federal court in May.

Scott Warren has been found not guilty on both counts of harboring two men.

"In our communities, we know who we are, and we are so much deeper than that border can define," Geena Jackson, a member of No More Deaths, said Wednesday.

Just over two hours after the jury began deliberations, a jury of nine women and three men found Scott Warren not guilty of harboring two men at "the Barn" in Ajo.

In a packed courtroom, including members of the clergy, the audience gasps and sobs were heard as the judge read the verdict.

Prosecutors asked Collins to poll the jury,  and they agreed unanimously.

The second federal felony trial of Scott Warren, a No More Deaths volunteer accused of harboring illegal immigrants in Arizona's western desert in 2018, drew to a close Wednesday as both prosecutors and defense attorneys worked to convince the jury before they began their deliberations. 

Warren, 37, faced two charges of harboring two men following a January 2018 raid on the ramshackle building known as “the Barn” on the outskirts of Ajo, an unincorporated town surrounded by remote deserts about 110 miles west of Tucson. Warren was first tried earlier this year, but the jury in that case could not reach a decision and the judge declared a mistrial. That left the Trump administration free to press the case against Warren a second time.

Jackson read a statement with Warren and his attorneys standing at her side. “Today, I also want to remember that just being human is never a crime, they can try to regulate our communities, our communication, our movements, and our humanity, but we will resist” said Jackson. “We can never stop caring for each other,” she said, “We can never stop sharing food water our hopes. Scott was repeatedly accused of providing orientation to those who needed it, but as Greg Kuykendall noted during the trial, "It is a human right to know where you are. And in these borderlands communities, we know where we are."

"Now is a moment for orientation, know where you are and give orientation to those who don’t, know who you are and how you will respond, and never let any government or law challenge that."

She asked to “hold space” for Perez-Villanueva and Sacaria-Goday, saying that their “intentions and actions” had been deliberated on for weeks, and criticized that “pictures of their faces and bodies” had been flashed in the courthouse. “That was wrong. I’d like to take a moment to honor that a smiling selfie taken during an incredible journey to tell your loved ones you’re okay is a powerful and beautiful act of resiliency and comfort.”

Their pictures don’t belong in a courtroom, she said. After a moment of silence, Jackson also took a moment to talk about the desert, which has been described as “vast nothingness over and over again.”

“It holds the lives and the loves of communities, it holds the spirits of the thousands who have disappeared. It holds the plants and the creatures that thrive on just-enough rain. This desert has taken a beating of border militarization, and wall construction, and remains powerful  despite what any human has tried to do.”

Michael Bailey, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, said that he was proud of his staff for “their very hard work to prosecute cases.”

“Obviously, I’m disappointed in the verdict,” he said, but he highlighted the fact that in the last several weeks, the district of Arizona filed nearly 3,000 immigration cases, the “bulk” of which were for illegal entry, and in the last two weeks, over 30 of those people had committed “violent crimes” in the U.S.  “We’re going to keep doing the work of prosecuting immigration cases,” he said. He also said the he didn’t believe that Warren’s case was a threat to humanitarian aid in the desert. “I never believed that, and I still don’t believe that this was a humanitarian aid case.” “People can give water to someone in need and that’s not illegal,” he said. (edited)

“We won’t distinguish between whether someone is trafficking, or harboring for money, or whether they’re doing it out of a misguided belief in social justice or open borders or whatever.”

"Although we’re disappointed in the verdict, it won’t deter us from continuing to prosecute all the re-entry and entry cases that we have. As well as all the harboring and smuggling and trafficking cases that we have."

During closing arguments Wednesday, assistant U.S. Attorney Nathaniel Walters, said that Warren intended to break the law and argued that because Warren allowed two men– Kristian Perez-Villanueva and Jose Arnaldo Sacaria-Goday—to stay at the Barn, for four days and three nights, he violated the law. 

The men, "did not need medical aid, the needed a place to stay, a place to regroup, and directions and a plan to get around the Border Patrol checkpoint," Walters argued. From January 14 to January 17, Warren "harbored and shielded" the men, and "he did so with the intent to violate the law," Walters said. 

There was not "serious dispute" on any other the elements of the crime, except for Warren’s intent, and Walters argued that Warren made a "choice to help the men" and he "crossed the line and violated the law."

Warren’s defense attorney, Greg Kuykendall said the case was a "superstore of reasonable doubt," and said that the prosecutors were confusing morality with the law, that they made assumptions about Warren. "The difference between humanitarian shelter and harboring is intent," Kuykendall said. The facts of the case, he said, do not show Warren's intent was to break the law. 

With nearly three-dozen members of the clergy in the audience, Walters hammered away at Warren arguing that it was "clear" that Warren provided "shelter from the detection," and that Warren's argument that he pointed out two distant mountains to the north of Ajo, as an attempt to "orient" the men so they could escape from the desert if they needed to "self-rescue" was a "distinction without a difference."

"They're plea for help had nothing to do with medical care," Walters said. "They wanted to disguise themselves and hide from Border Patrol," and Warren "knew that right off." 

Walters argued that even if the jury wanted to give Warren the benefit of the doubt for the first two days, during which medical notes known as Subject-Objective Assessment Plan, or SOAP notes, indicated that both men had blisters, and Sacaria-Goday complained of sore ribs, the men stayed an additional two days. 

"That's enough to show that he harbored them," Walters told the jury. 

And, finally he honed in on the idea that when Border Patrol agents Burns and Marquez arrived at the Barn, leading a convoy of vehicles, Warren didn't immediately inform the agents that Perez-Villanueva and Sacaria-Goday were in the building, and that showed he was "hoping he wouldn't get caught," and "hoping to give them whatever head-start he could."

After a short break, Kuykendall spent an hour laying out his own closing arguments, telling the jury, "Being a good samaritan is not against the law, following the golden rule is not a felony." 

He argued that the agents and prosecutors "assumed" that Warren was a smuggler, and that they operated on a "blind assumption" about the practice of humanitarian aid. 

"The only way to find Scott guilty beyond a reasonable doubt is to believe the purpose motivating him was to break the law," Kuykendall said. And, he told the jury that Warren was trying to "prevent suffering and death" in the desert. 

"If you follow Mr. Walters' arguments to their logical conclusion, all humanitarian aid is always illegal, and that's just not the case," he said. 

Continuing to lay out his case, he also showed the jury a line, "the law does not include an affirmative obligation for a citizen to report suspected or known violations of the law to authorities." Even if one believes that the men were in the country illegally, and that's morally wrong, Warren was still under no obligation under the law to call Border Patrol, Kuykendall argued. 

And, he outlined the difference between hindering the Border Patrol, which would include lying to agents, or resisting a warrant or an arrest, to either helping agents, or simply being neutral. On Tuesday, Warren testified that offering humanitarian aid was a neutral act, held up by legal protocols written by legal experts and advisers to No More Deaths, and protocols used by the International Red Cross. 

Kuykendall focused on the SOAP notes, and argued that they proved little about Warren's intentions. "This is not a medical malpractice case," he said. "They're a red herring," he said. 

During their closing arguments, and during the trial, prosecutors repeatedly showed selfies captured from Perez-Villanueva's phone. In the images, Perez-Villanueva is standing shirtless in front of a mirror, and in another, both are smiling as they help cook dinner. 

"Remember, they were probably proud of themselves," Kuykendall said of the duo. 

The prosecutor's case was not built on facts, he said, but rather on "insinuations and arguments," he said. 

Prosecutors hit back

Walters returned and argued that giving the men a sense of where they were was a "bizarre argument," and he said that Warren was using humanitarian aid as an "umbrella to cover his intentions," which was in furtherance of the men's move north.

And, Warren should have immediately told the agents that the men were there. "Why wouldn't you say something?" he said. "The  only explanation was that you were saving yourself and hoping Kristian and Jose were not discovered." 

He also argued that video from a Chevron gas station in Ajo showed that the two men were fine when they arrived in Ajo. 

"There's not one piece of video evidence to show that Kristian and Jose had medical needs that required shelter," he said. Instead, the men acted like they "were on vacation, one to continue their illegal journey north," Walters said. 

After closing arguments, the U.S. District Raner Collins spent 20 minutes giving the jury their instructions, and then they retired for deliberations. 

Nurse not called to testify

On Tuesday, prosecutors pushed to add the testimony of Susannah Brown, a volunteer nurse, who aided the two men at the Barn, and testified in Warren's defense. 

However, Collins rejected their arguments that she was unavailable, and declined to let them read her statements into the record for the jury setting aside a strange wrinkle that was added to the case late Tuesday.

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