A U.S. Border Patrol agent was threatened with a rock when he fatally shot an illegal immigrant, his defense attorney told a federal jury Wednesday, but a prosecutor contended that the man did not provoke the attack.
"The victim was surrendering, going down on his knees, was hit from behind . . . and shot through the heart while surrendering," special prosecutor Grant Woods told jurors during opening statements in the agent's trial.
Agent Nicholas Corbett is charged with second-degree murder, negligent homicide and manslaughter for the January 2007 shooting near Naco, Ariz. Jurors can convict on only one count.
The defense countered by telling the jury that Corbett was justified when he fired the fatal shot because 22-year-old Francisco Javier Dominguez of Puebla, Mexico, was threatening to "crush his head with a rock."
Defense lawyer Sean Chapman said Dominguez was angry because he had been caught and Corbett was only doing as he was trained.
He also contended that three other migrants who plan to testify, the victim's two brothers and the girlfriend of one, lied after being improperly influenced by the Mexican government.
The four migrants were making their way north from the Mexican border when Corbett sped up to them in a patrol vehicle and circled the group before jumping out to take them into custody.
Seconds later, Dominguez was dying, and Corbett was desperately trying to find the wound, a fellow agent testified Wednesday.
Agent Steve Berg said he heard Corbett calling out for help on the radio and saying that a shooting had taken place. He said he reached the scene less than two minutes later.
There was no sign that the other migrants were angry, Berg said.
Corbett appeared shocked, he testified, and Berg said he later overheard him describing how he had been threatened with a rock.
Woods suggested that Corbett covered up by lying about the circumstances of the shooting and alleging to other agents that he had been threatened.
The case is unusual because it is being tried in federal court by state prosecutors using Arizona law.
A conviction for second-degree murder could bring a sentence of 10 to 22 years, manslaughter seven to 21 years, and negligent homicide four to eight years.
A conviction also would bring mandatory prison time because a gun was involved in the incident.