Until Monday, U.S. officials were working intensely in a secret effort with Mexican authorities to arrest four suspects in Mexico for the killing of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
But the covert operations, carried out as recently as June, have not borne fruit, so the FBI and federal prosecutors are turning to the public for help.
They revealed the names Monday of four more suspects in Terry's December 2010 killing, and they offered a $250,000 reward for information leading directly to the arrest of each of them, for a total reward of $1 million.
"We wanted to exhaust every possible option and then ask for the public's assistance," said James Turgal Jr., special agent in charge of the FBI's Phoenix division.
The indictment unsealed Monday was originally issued by a federal grand jury in Tucson on Nov. 7. Laura Duffy, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, defended the delay in releasing information to the public, saying it has seemed the best course.
"We have been actively and intensely following leads, following intelligence and believed until this point in time that those avenues were the best avenues to pursue, and to pursue them covertly," Duffy said. "We now believe that not to be the case."
She also said the investigation has been unaffected by what she called the "unprecedented atmospherics" surrounding the case due to its connection to the ATF's Operation Fast and Furious. Two weapons sold to a suspect in the ATF's operation were found at the Southern Arizona scene of Terry's killing, leading to an ongoing congressional investigation and to the U.S. House voting June 28 to hold U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for not handing over some information.
"I want the Terry family and the members of the U.S. Border Patrol to know that those atmospherics have not distracted the efforts of this prosecution team," Duffy said.
Terry's cousin Robert Heyer said Monday the wait has been "very difficult on the family" but added: "If the four fugitives are brought to justice, it will be worth the wait."
Five people Indicted
The 11-count indictment charges five people with first-degree murder, along with second-degree murder, conspiracy to commit armed robbery and assault on a federal officer, among other charges.
A sixth man, Rito Osorio-Arellanes, accompanied the other five across the border earlier in December 2010 intending to rip off marijuana loads with them, but he was arrested on Dec. 12 and in custody when the shooting took place, Duffy said. Federal court records say he has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
Rito's brother, Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, was shot the night Terry was killed and has been in custody awaiting trial since then.
The newly named suspects are:
• Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga, 31.
• Ivan Soto-Barraza, 34.
• Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes, the 34-year-old brother of Rito and Manuel.
• Lionel Portillo-Meza, whose age is estimated from mid-20s to early 30s.
Authorities released photos of three of the four. The Osorio-Arellanes brothers are from El Fuerte, Sinaloa, court documents say. But Turgal and Duffy refused to say whether that's where investigators have been pursuing leads.
"The FBI, in concert with our Mexican partner agencies both in the military and law enforcement, have been actively searching for them," Turgal said.
NEW DETAILS RELEASED
Announcing the indictment at a news conference in the FBI's Tucson headquarters, Duffy offered new details of the events leading to Terry's death. The six co-defendants crossed the border illegally earlier in December and obtained firearms on the U.S. side, she said, though she wouldn't offer details on how they obtained the guns.
Just before 11 p.m. Dec. 14, 2010, Terry and three other members of a Border Patrol tactical team were on a hill overlooking a wash, in an area west of Rio Rico called Mesquite Seep, when people on foot set off a ground sensor nearby. Within a few minutes, Terry's team saw five men coming up the wash toward them.
Terry and the others then "deployed themselves in a line on this hill," Duffy said. When the group passed below them, the Border Patrol agents announced themselves, then several members of the group turned toward them with weapons raised. That's when agents fired beanbag rounds toward the group and received gunfire in return. The agents then returned gunfire at the group, and Manuel Osorio-Arellanes was hit, while Terry lay with a single, fatal gunshot wound. The four whose names were announced Monday escaped that night, Duffy said.
Her office took over the case from federal prosecutors in Tucson in September 2011, as scandal enveloped Operation Fast and Furious, forcing Arizona-based prosecutors to recuse themselves. The new prosecutors asked that references to the four fugitive defendants be sealed in court records, but that led to the entire case being sealed under a local practice particular to Arizona, Duffy said.
On StarNet: Tim Steller's blog Señor Reporter is at azstarnet.com/senorreporter
Where to call
Federal officials asked Monday that anyone with information on the whereabouts of the fugitives suspected of killing Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry contact:
• The FBI's Phoenix office at 623-466-1999, or their local FBI office, or the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy.
Contact reporter Tim Steller at email@example.com or 807-8427.