Jurors taken to Arizona site of Border Patrol shooting after dark
PHOENIX — The jury in the trial of a U.S. Border Patrol agent charged in the fatal shooting of a teen across the Mexican border was taken to the scene after dark to observe conditions as they may have existed at the time.
Court documents made public Monday show that the jurors in the trial of agent Lonnie Swartz visited the area of the border fence in Nogales, Arizona, on Thursday night. Prosecutors have charged Swartz with second-degree murder in the death of 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez. They say Swartz fired 16 shots, hitting the teen 10 times; eight times in the back.
Swartz has said he fired in self-defense in response to people throwing rocks from the Mexico side of the border during a drug smuggling attempt. The U.S. attorney’s office does not dispute that the boy was throwing rocks, but contends Swartz responded with an unreasonable amount of force.
Defense attorneys requested the jury visit to the border at night, saying “the unique characteristics of the location are central to the story of the case.”
“The fence itself is unique because of its nature as an international boundary, its physical security features, and the topography of the specific locations at issue,” defense attorney Sean Chapman wrote in a request to the court. “The density of vegetation in the area, the buildings and the narrow streets of Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona are particularly relevant.”
The documents released Monday did not spell out details of the visit other than it lasted almost five hours.
According to another new document, District Judge Raner C. Collins told jurors to submit in writing any questions they have about the border visit.
Since the trial began last month, much of the testimony has focused on whether Elena Rodriguez was still alive after Swartz fired his first few shots through the metal bollards of the fence.
Prosecutors have said the youth was wounded but still alive when Swartz moved along the fence and fired most of the bullets. The defense has argued that Elena Rodriguez died from one of the first shots fired.
Mexican officials, including pathologists, were testifying this week.
Prosecutors say Swartz opened fire at about 11:30 p.m. in October 2012, shooting through metal poles of a 20-foot (6-meter) fence that sits on a 25-foot (about 7.6-meter) embankment above Mexico’s Calle Internacional, a street lined with homes and small businesses.
About 20,000 people live on the Arizona side and about 300,000 live on the Mexico side, but the two communities linked by family members, trade and culture have long been referred to locally as “Ambos Nogales” – “Both Nogales” in Spanish.
Swartz is on administrative leave and free on his own recognizance, but the Border Patrol has not said if he is continuing to receive his salary.