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Video clips of fatal border shooting shown at agent's Tucson court hearing
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Video clips of fatal border shooting shown at agent's Tucson court hearing


Taide Elena, grandmother of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, holds a portrait of Jose Antonio in front of the U.S./Mexico port of entry in Nogales, Sonora.

The Elena Rodriguez and Barrón families organized Saturdays protest. “Unity makes strength,” said Elena. “That’s why we’re coming together.” About 30 family members, friends and supporters of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, the 16-year-old killed by U.S. Border Patrol agents, participated in the march on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012. Photo by Josh Morgan/for the Arizona Daily Star

Federal prosecutors showed glimpses Monday of video footage of a Border Patrol agent firing through the border fence in Nogales and killing a 16-year-old boy.

Portions of the video, which has not been made publicly available, were shown at a hearing in U.S. District Court as the prosecution and defense argued whether the video and a 3-D model of the crime scene should be presented to a jury.

Border Patrol Agent Lonnie Ray Swartz, who did not attend Monday’s hearing, faces a second-degree murder charge in the Oct. 10, 2012, death of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez. The trial is scheduled to begin in October.

Swartz fired through the fence as he responded to a smuggling incident around 11:30 p.m. in which rocks were thrown from Nogales, Sonora, at the roughly 20-foot-tall border fence built atop a rock embankment.

Two cameras operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection showed Swartz approaching the border fence on the U.S. side and firing into Mexico. Several law enforcement vehicles were already parked in the area.

The video also showed two individuals paused halfway up the border fence as they climbed into Mexico.

Swartz can be seen firing 16 times, including a pause while he stepped back from the fence, reloaded, and walked back to the fence and started firing again. An autopsy report by Mexican authorities indicated Elena Rodriguez was struck 10 times and most of the bullets hit him in the back.

The victim’s family maintains he was caught in the cross-fire as he walked home. Swartz’s defense lawyers say Elena Rodriguez was involved in a smuggling and rock-throwing incident in downtown Nogales that forced Swartz to fire through the fence.

The video clips were shown as federal prosecutor Mary Sue Feldmeier questioned government witness James Tavernetti, a 3-D modeling expert who said he has created 3-D models for more than a dozen criminal cases, and Gary Weaver, a field technology officer at CBP at the time of the shooting who testified he downloaded and copied the video the day after the shooting.

In the Swartz case, Tavernetti created the model based on a measuring device placed at the crime scene that used a laser to gather 112 million data points, enough to show cracks in the sidewalk, Tavernetti testified.

The 3-D model used colored icons to demonstrate how Elena Rodriguez, two other individuals in Mexico, and Swartz moved through the crime scene. Tavernetti said he used icons because he did not have enough information to show precisely how the individuals moved their heads and arms.

Several members of the Elena Rodriguez family attended Monday’s hearing. Elena Rodriguez’s grandmother left the courtroom in tears after Feldmeier’s presentation briefly showed Elena Rodriguez’s body on the autopsy table. Feldmeier stopped the presentation until she left the courtroom.

Photographs taken immediately after the shooting showed the body of Elena Rodriguez clad in a gray T-shirt, blue jeans, and gray Nike sneakers lying face down on the sidewalk with his arms underneath his torso.

Defense lawyer Jim Calle questioned Tavernetti regarding the compression of the video, frame rates, and other aspects of the 3-D model. Calle asked similar questions of Weaver as the defense argued the processing of the video distorted it and made it unreliable.

The hearing is scheduled to continue this week. Federal Judge Raner C. Collins will decide on the issues raised at the hearing and several other issues raised in motions filed after the deadline for them to be considered at the hearing.

Contact reporter Curt Prendergast at 573-4224 or or on Twitter @CurtTucsonStar

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