A Mexican man involved in a 2010 shootout that killed a US border agent and revealed the existence of Operation Fast and Furious, a botched sting operation targeting drug cartels, was sentenced Monday to 30 years in prison.
Manuel Osorio-Arellanes is the only man to have been prosecuted so far for the gun battle on Dec. 14, 2010, that killed Agent Brian Terry. Five bandits and several members of a US border patrol tactical team were involved in the shootout. The sting, organized by Arizona agents in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, became hugely controversial and embarrassed the federal government.
In Fast and Furious, ATF agents watched while suspected gun smugglers purchased weapons from gun shops, hoping that the low-level "straw purchasers" would lead them to drug cartels in Mexico. But the agents lost track of most of the weapons they were supposed to be tracking. Of 2,000 weapons that they allowed to be purchased between 2009 and 2011, they lost track of some 1,400. Two of those guns were found at the scene of the shootout that killed Agent Terry, and dozens more were found at crime scenes in Mexico. It's still unclear if the bullet that killed Terry came from one of those weapons.
Terry's murder led to a public outcry against "gunwalking" tactics like Fast and Furious. Congressional investigations and internal Justice Department investigation ensued, and top officials connected to the operation resigned. During the Congressional investigation, Attorney General Eric Holder was held in contempt after he refused to disclose internal Justice Department documents.
Mr. Osorio-Arellanes, who received the 30-year sentence that prosecutors had requested, is the only one of the bandits who has been successfully brought to justice. Two others are being held in Mexico and are awaiting extradition, and the remaining two are on the run.
Last week, court documents helped shed light on the events of the shootout, which occurred just north of the border city of Nogales, Ariz. According to the filings, Terry and three other agents were stationed above a dry creek when a sensor was tripped. The agents, wearing night-vision gear, saw members of a "rip-off" crew – criminals who steal drug loads and rob illegal immigrants. The agents yelled "police!" in Spanish once the men were close, and the two sides exchanged fire.
Terry yelled "I'm hit!" and told fellow agents that he couldn't feel his legs. He had been hit once. Fellow border agent William Castano said he offered first aid, but that "Agent Terry soon lost consciousness and died at the scene."
Osorio-Arellanes, who was wounded that night, has denied firing the bullet that struck Terry, and prosecutors have said evidence supports that claim. But because he was a participant in the rip-off crew, he is considered liable.
Terry's family, who traveled to Arizona for the sentencing, have been vocal critics of the government in the case, and of the Fast and Furious operation.
"Brian is my hero," Josephine Terry, Terry's mother, said at the sentencing. "He was a dedicated American. He would always say, 'This is the best country in the world, Mom.' "
Osorio-Arellanes initially declined to speak, but eventually apologized in Spanish and noted that he was also wounded in the shooting.
Prosecutor Todd Robinson took issue with that statement, saying, "There is one victim and one victim only. That is Brian Terry."
Material from wire services was used in this story.