A man convicted in the shooting death of a federal Border Patrol agent during a firefight that revealed the government's botched gun-smuggling investigation known as Operation Fast and Furious was sentenced Monday to 30 years in prison.
Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, who is from El Fuerte in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, is the only person to be convicted in the Dec. 14, 2010, shooting death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry near the Arizona-Mexico border.
U.S. District Court Judge David C. Bury handed down the sentence after Terry's mother tearfully recounted the pain she has endured since losing her son.
"Brian is my hero," Josephine Terry said. "He was a dedicated American. He would always say, 'This is the best country in the world, Mom.'"
Bury asked Osorio-Arellanes if he wanted to speak, but he initially declined through his attorney, Clay Hernandez. Hernandez said the defendant did not feel he had the proper education to speak and felt extremely nervous.
Nudged by the judge, Osorio-Arellanes finally apologized several times in Spanish and reiterated that he too was wounded in the shootout.
Prosecutor Todd Robinson took issue with that statement.
"There is one victim and one victim only," he said. "That is Brian Terry."
The shootout erupted just north of the Arizona border city of Nogales as Osorio-Arellanes and four other men who are accused of sneaking into the country to rob marijuana smugglers approached Terry and three other agents who were targeting such rip-off crews.
Osorio-Arellanes was the only person arrested at the scene, while four other alleged rip-off crew members fled to Mexico. Two of the four are now in Mexican custody, while two others remain fugitives.
Osorio-Arellanes maintains he was not the shooter who killed Terry, and prosecutors agree that evidence supports his claim. Still, they say he is liable because he was a voluntary participant in the rip-off crew.
Two rifles bought by a gun-smuggling ring that was being monitored in the Fast and Furious investigation were found at the scene of the firefight, though authorities have declined to say whether the murder weapon in Terry's death was linked to a purchase from the investigation.
Federal authorities who conducted Fast and Furious have faced criticism for allowing suspected straw gun buyers for a smuggling ring to walk away from gun shops in Arizona with weapons, rather than arrest them and seize the guns. Agents allowed the purchase of 2,000 guns, but they then lost track of more than 1,400 of them. Some of the guns purchased illegally with the government's knowledge were later found at crime scenes in Mexico and the United States.
The guilty plea by Osorio-Arellanes in October 2012 marked the biggest conviction to date in a case that embarrassed the federal government and prompted a series of congressional investigations. Members of the gun-smuggling ring that was being monitored in the Fast and Furious investigation have pleaded guilty to federal charges.