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Tucson judge sets border agent's trial in fatal shooting of Mexican teen
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Tucson judge sets border agent's trial in fatal shooting of Mexican teen

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Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez

Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez



Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz will go on trial in federal court on Oct. 12 in the shooting death of a teen who was standing across the border in Mexico.

U.S. District Court Judge Raner Collins in Tucson set the date Friday, months after rejecting the contention of the agent that he can’t be tried in his court.

Collins said he will resolve all remaining pretrial issues at a hearing June 19. And he set a deadline for any plea deal of Sept. 22.

Swartz, on duty at the time, has not disputed that he fired shots through an opening in the border fence at 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, who was on the Sonora side of the line. An autopsy found 10 of the bullets hit the teen in the back.

But Swartz, now on administrative leave, contends he fired in self-defense, saying the boy was throwing rocks across the border. He was indicted by a grand jury on a second-degree murder charge. That explanation has been in dispute, if for no other reason than the Mexican side of the border is about 25 feet lower than the Arizona side.

His attorney attempted to have the case thrown out of federal court, contending the case should be tried in state court. But Collins, in a ruling earlier this year, said Swartz was standing in a 60-foot zone at the time of the incident, land he said is federal property.

Meanwhile, a separate civil suit against Swartz by the youth’s parents remains on hold. The issue there is whether federal courts in this country have jurisdiction to hear the complaint, as Elena Rodriguez was shot and died in Mexico.

Attorneys for his family have argued to federal appellate judges that the incident originated in the United States, making it appropriate to have it heard in courts in this country. But the judges in this case said they won’t decide that issue until there is a ruling in a similar case out of Texas, where a Border Patrol agent in 2010 shot and killed a Mexican teen playing in a culvert that separates El Paso from Juarez.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled the parents cannot pursue their claim against Jesus Mesa Jr. because the boy, Sergio Hernandez, was a Mexican citizen “who was on Mexican soil at the time he was shot.”

But that case is now on review to the U.S. Supreme Court. Whatever the justices rule likely will determine whether the civil case against Swartz can continue.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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