TUCSON, Arizona (Reuters) - A prosecutor said on Wednesday that a U.S. Border Patrol agent who fatally shot a Mexican teenager from U.S. territory in 2012 committed murder, while the defense attorney said the agent’s actions were lawful and in response to a hail of rocks.
The trial, scheduled to last three weeks, is being held at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump is pushing to build a wall along the border with Mexico in an effort to keep out illegal immigrants and drugs.
Agent Lonnie Swartz “calmly and deliberately” walked up to the border fence and fired 16 shots in less than 34 seconds at 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez on Oct. 10, 2012, hitting him 10 times including twice in the head, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Sue Feldmeier said in her opening statement.
Swartz, who was charged in 2015 and pleaded not guilty, even reloaded his pistol during the incident, Feldmeier said.
Elena Rodriguez was shot through a fence separating the cities of Nogales, Arizona - where Swartz was on patrol - and Nogales, Mexico - where the teen was walking.
“This is not an immigration case, this is not a drug case,” Feldmeier said at the U.S. District Court in Tucson, Arizona. “This is a second-degree murder case.”
She added that Swartz “cannot use his badge as a shield against a murder charge.”
However, Swartz’s attorney, Sean Chapman, said his client “did what he had to do” when he fired his weapon in response to a hail of rocks that hit a Nogales police dog and a fellow Border Patrol agent.
Swartz “did not celebrate” after the shooting, but rather vomited and cried, Chapman said.
Swartz’s use of force was lawful and agents were not required to seek cover or move back when they were attacked with rocks, Chapman said. Instead, they were trained to “eliminate the threat,” especially when others were at risk, he added.
Chapman also said that Elena Rodriguez was acting in concert with drug smugglers, and that the boy “made the conscious choice to put his own life at risk by attacking the agents with rocks.”
Swartz, who remains on indefinite suspension without pay, remained quiet throughout the opening statements, taking only a few notes on a legal pad.
Elena Rodriguez’s mother, Araceli Rodriguez, and grandmother were in the courtroom. The mother left during Chapman’s comments.
Reporting by Paul Ingram in Tucson, Arizona; editing by Ben Klayman and Phil Berlowitz