Four illegal immigrants from Mexico taken into custody after a Dec. 14 gunbattle that killed Border Patrol agent Brian Terry have not yet been charged in connection with the slaying.
After being apprehended near where the shooting occurred northwest of Nogales near Peck Canyon, the four men are being held on charges of illegal re-entry after deportation, said Heather Williams of the Federal Public Defender's Office in Tucson. Three of the men have made their initial appearances in federal court but the fourth has not because medically he is not well enough, she said. Border Patrol has said the man was wounded in the conflict.
The federal government has given Williams' office and the three private attorneys representing the other three men very little information about the investigation. However, the attorneys don't expect anyone currently in custody to be charged with the shooting, Williams said.
"We would think that because of the public news pressure, if they had enough evidence to go to the grand jury on this, they would have issued a press release on this already," Williams said.
The FBI, the lead investigative agency, and the U.S. Attorney's Office have not made any public statements about the investigation since the day after the shooting.
If the government doesn't have solid evidence that one of the four actually shot agent Terry, 40, of Michigan, it could be difficult to charge them under the federal felony murder law, which is less expansive than state murder law, Williams said. The Arizona Daily Star is withholding the names of the four men because they have not yet been charged in connection with the shooting.
Tucson defense attorney Leslie Bowman speculates that the government is still trying to figure out what happened that night before deciding whether to charge her client and the others with more serious crimes.
"My feeling is that they are probably looking for forensic evidence," said Bowman, who is representing one of the four men. "Obviously, there was some kind of guns involved. They seized cell phones. They are probably looking for things like ballistics or fingerprints."
Very little has been made public about what happened in the Dec. 14 gunbattle northwest of Nogales, but officials have confirmed that Terry and his fellow agents in a specially trained tactical unit known as Bortac were targeting a "rip crew" that robbed and assaulted drug runners and illegal immigrants.
In addition to the four taken into custody, authorities said they were searching for a fifth suspect. But the Federal Public Defender's Office is not aware of a fifth suspect in custody, Williams said.
Brandon Judd, president of the agents' union, said he was as frustrated as many others following the case that so little information was being released publicly in the days after the shooting. But Judd says he now understands the need to keep details of what happened that night under wraps.
"It's a delicate prosecution and if the agency came out and made public statements, it would makes that prosecution very difficult," said Judd, president of Local 2544.
The fifth suspect is still out there and federal officials in the U.S. are working closely with their counterparts in Mexico to track him down, Judd said.
"The more information that is out here, the harder it is to make it happen," Judd said.
As for the four men in custody, it's anybody's guess if they'll eventually be charged in connection with the fatal shooting of agent Terry.
"We have been trying to figure that out and basically we've been told that we are not going to be given any information until the government is ready," Bowman said. "We know nothing."
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Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org