WASHINGTON — Sens. John Cornyn and Dianne Feinstein on Wednesday joined the ranks of lawmakers urging President Bush to release two Border Patrol agents sentenced to more than a decade in prison, each for wounding a Mexican drug courier.
Cornyn, a Texas Republican, and Feinstein, a California Democrat, called on Bush to commute the sentences of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, saying the two imprisoned agents received overly harsh sentences and were victims of a "prosecutorial overreach."
Their request came one day after the two senators participated in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine the controversial case. U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton of San Antonio, Texas, whose office prosecuted the two agents, was a key witness at the hearing and defended his handling of the case.
"That hearing confirmed the concerns raised by many members of the public: that this penalty levied on these agents is excessive and they deserve the immediate exercise of your executive clemency powers," the two senators told Bush in a letter.
A group of Republican House members also has called on Bush to commute the sentences or pardon Compean and Ramos, echoing the demands of predominantly conservative grassroots advocacy organizations that are rallying behind the two agents. Pressure for the agents' release escalated after Bush commuted the sentence of convicted former vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said Bush would read the Cornyn-Feinstein request "with interest," but he declined to speculate on a likely course of action, saying the White House doesn't discuss requests for pardons or commutations.
Ramos and Compean were sentenced to 11 and 12 years in prison respectively after they were convicted on more than a half-dozen charges in the shooting of Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila on Feb. 17, 2005. Aldrete-Davila was shot in the buttocks as he fled from the agents after abandoning a van loaded with marijuana. He escaped across the border but later re-emerged as the key witness against the two agents.
Sutton, in his appearance at the judiciary committee hearing chaired by Feinstein, repeated his assertions that the two agents shot an unarmed man and then tried to cover up the evidence — a position Sutton said was upheld by a jury in El Paso, Texas. Ramos and Compean acknowledged firing at the fugitive but said they thought he had a gun.
Feinstein and Cornyn challenged the prosecutor's decision to include a firearms charge that mandated a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence. The firearms offense was unnecessary, the senators said in their letter to Bush, since prosecutors lodged 12 charges against the agents, some of which were dropped by the jury.
"While this case has generated strong emotions on both sides, we do not believe that justice will be served by agents Ramos and Compean spending over a decade in prison," Feinstein and Cornyn told the president. "We urge you to commute their prison sentences immediately."
They also pointed out that Aldrete-Davila was an acknowledged drug trafficker who was linked to a second marijuana shipment after being granted immunity to testify against the agents. In contrast, they said, Compean and Ramos were agents "in good standing" before the shooting incident, with no criminal records.