[ 09. Mar 2008 ]

Justice Denied: Mistrial Frees Border Patrol Agent of Murder Charges

Francisco Javier Dominguez Rivera

Jury Unable to Arrive at Unanimous Verdict in Murder of Francisco Javier Dominguez Rivera.


Tucson, Arizona - After two and half days of deliberation, a Tucson jury was unable to arrive at a verdict as to whether Border Patrol agent Nicholas Corbett was guilty of murder charges.

For those who live in border communities, the mistrial does not bode well for border residents and human rights groups who are calling for greater accountability and oversight of Border Patrol policies and practices.

"We attended every day of the trial. The prosecution's evidence was clear, consistent and compelling. I can't imagine how the jurors could have been deadlocked," states Katie O'Connor of the Border Action Network. "Unlike the defense's testimony which varied from person to person and hinged on non-existing evidence, the three eye-witnesses, forensics and ballistics testimony all pointed to a clear case of murder."

The trial stems from a January 12, 2007 when 22-year old Francisco Javier Dominguez Rivera was shot and killed at close range as he was surrendering by Tucson Sector Border Patrol Agent Nicholas Corbett. For the last two weeks, Corbett has stood trial for second-degree murder, manslaughter, and negligent homicide.

In the attempt to present that Corbett shot in self-defense, Corbett and other agents who arrived at the scene described four different and often inconsistent versions of the incident. "Apparently at least one of the jurors believed the fourth version of Corbett's story - one that had a 5'3" kid take on the biggest agent in town, a 6'4", 250 pound man armed with a gun," concludes O'Connor.

The trial, which has drawn national attention, has particular importance for local border communities who have been calling for changes in Border Patrol policies and practices for several years. Community groups, such as Border Action Network, who have documented abuses by Border Patrol agents claim that while the Corbett case is egregious and tragic, it is not an isolated incident.

"We monitored this trial because of its importance to border communities and immigrant families. We are often in a role of trying to encourage people to cast aside their reluctance to report human rights violations committed by the Border Patrol," explains Jennifer Allen, the Border Action Network's Director. "A mistrial sends the message that justice's "blind eye" doesn't exist for immigrants." She worries that they will have an even more difficult time encouraging community members to stand up for the rights.

The group has used the trial as an opportunity to encourage Border Patrol to improve and increase its training of agents and to call for the formation of an Independent Review Commission. "It is important that Border Patrol agents know that there are consequences for their actions. Impunity is not a democratic value," says Allen. The argues that better training in how to respond to different situations with non-lethal force and ongoing training in constitutional and human rights would prevent future deaths, like that of Javier.

The group hopes that prosecutors will refile the case quickly. "We hope that in a new trial, Agent Corbett's propensity for violence will be revealed and that the Border Patrol will be held accountable for not preventing such egregious acts of violence from happening." While there were elusions to Agent Corbett's history of violence and that he was required to attend an anger management course, it never actually entered into the courtroom discussion.

"Border Patrol agents and the agency must be held accountable for their actions", says Allen. "For Javier's parents and brothers, for those that call the border region home and the many men, women and children who cross the Arizona desert on foot, we can not tolerate treating migrants as disposable people whose death does not warrant punishment."

The trial began with the prosecution quoting the famous line from the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal and are born with certain inalienable rights. Unfortunately, today's mistrial leaves us still asking whether that statement is true.

This article was published first on 07. Mar 2008 by ::