Video: Johnny Sutton on Hannity & Colmes

Johnny Sutton was on “Hannity & Colmes” last night defending the Ramos and Compean verdict and sentence. Turn your Outrage Meters to 11, and then play the clip:

Now turn your Outrage Meters to 12, because I’m about to agree with Sutton — at least in part.

Whether you like it or not, Sutton is right that Agents Ramos and Compean were tried and convicted on the issues. The verdict shows that the jury did not believe the drug smuggler had a gun, or did anything threatening enough to justify the shooting.

Contrary to the belief of some, Johnny Sutton is not just out to nail any Border Patrol Agent who fires a gun. Border Patrol Agents in his district frequently engage in shootings, yet prosecutions like this are very rare. Ramos and Compean were prosecuted because their subsequent behavior showed that they didn’t think their shooting was justified.

If Ramos and Compean were the model Border Patrol agents their supporters make them out to be, there is no reason for them to have covered up this shooting. They picked up their casings and didn’t tell supervisors about the shooting. They had a chance to provide an innocent explanation for this damning behavior at trial — and they failed. A jury of twelve people concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that they were guilty.

Some say that any drug smuggler must be armed. But Sutton noted in his testimony yesterday:

From January 2004 through March 2005, there were 155 drug seizures at the Fabens Border Patrol Station, totaling over 43,000 pounds of marijuana. In none of those seizures was a gun found. Over the longer period between October 1, 2001, and February 15, 2006, the Fabens Border Patrol Station reported the seizure of only one firearm from a total of 496 drug seizures, totaling more than 131,000 pounds of marijuana. . . . The fact is that drug mules in El Paso almost never carry guns.

I’ll twist the knife further. You’re upset that the drug smuggler wasn’t prosecuted? Blame Ramos and Compean. As Sutton makes clear, if they’d done their jobs properly, perhaps the smuggler could have been prosecuted after all.

Now that you’re totally enraged, and demanding that I be removed from Hot Air, I’ll throw you a bone or two — only because it’s what I believe.

For one thing, I think Sutton is being overly simplistic when he says that anyone upset by how this case turned out simply doesn’t understand the facts.

First of all, even Sutton appears to agree that the sentence Ramos and Compean received was “harsh.” Sutton appears uncomfortable defending the length of the sentence, and places the blame for this on Congress. And it’s true: the statute mandates long prison terms for crimes committed with guns, and contains no exemption for law enforcement. But I think a good argument could be made that, while police don’t get a free pass when they commit robberies or rapes with guns, the situation is arguably a little different here.

Second, even looking at the underlying facts, Sutton is overgeneralizing. Yes, many people are upset that the U.S. Attorney took a criminal illegal immigrant’s word over that of law enforcement. But the critics fall into different categories.

Some of the critics just don’t care about the facts. Unless there is a video showing a bad shooting — and maybe even then — they will never accept the idea that a jury could believe a criminal over law enforcement. These critics think that even an unarmed illegal alien drug smuggler deserves whatever happens to him — even if that means being shot, and having his urethra damaged by the bullet, so that he has to pee through a catheter. Too bad! He’s a drug smuggler! FREE RAMOS AND COMPEAN!

Other critics do understand the facts, but are concerned anyway. They are concerned about the way the case was charged. They are concerned about the personal relationship one of the Government witnesses had with the drug smuggler. They are concerned about the breadth of the immunity agreement, and the fact that it did not call for the cancellation of the deal if the drug smuggler lied. They are concerned about reports that the smuggler committed a second offense — and they don’t necessarily trust the Government to prosecute that case zealously, knowing that doing so might unravel the Compean and Ramos convictions.

In writing this post, I consulted with my commenter DRJ, who has read all the trial transcripts. Since she lives in West Texas, I was especially interested in her reaction to Sutton’s claim that West Texas juries don’t convict law enforcement officers on a whim. She said that she agrees with that statement entirely — except, she says:

I don’t think it applies to El Paso or El Paso juries. El Paso is not a typical West Texas red-state town. It is an international city that votes Democratic. It has a large percentage of illegal immigrant residents and, if the prosecutor’s closing argument is correct, a lot of dope dealers.

In the end, my reaction to Johnny Sutton’s appearance — like my reaction to the case as a whole — is nuanced. (Eat your heart out, John Kerry!) I respect the jury’s verdict, but as I have learned more about the disputed facts of the case, I wonder whether the sentence is too harsh. I don’t believe for a second that Sutton was out to undermine our immigration policies, but I have concerns about the way the Government handled aspects of the case — in particular the immunity agreement. I wouldn’t be outraged if President Bush decided to cut the sentences substantially, but I think these guys deserve some custody time.

Ah, the hell with it. You guys are right. THIS CASE IS A TRAVESTY! FREE RAMOS AND COMPEAN!

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