Federal prosecutors closed out the final case against the men who murdered Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in a shootout linked to President Obama’s Fast and Furious gun scheme, concluding one of the darkest chapters in American border security.
Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga was slapped with a 50-year prison sentence Wednesday, 12 years after he and four other men shot it out with Terry and fellow Border Patrol agents on rugged terrain just north of the Mexican boundary.
Three other men on the scene the night of Dec. 14, 2010, got life sentences, while a fourth — who was shot in the stomach by the agents — is serving 30 years. Two others connected to the “rip crew” but not there that night got 8- and 27-year sentences for their roles.
Two of the rifles the men carried that night were part of the Obama administration’s disastrous Operation Fast and Furious, which was supposed to be a way to try to track illegal gun sales, but at least 1,400 weapons were set adrift — many of which ended up in the hands of Mexican criminals.
The operation was shut down in the wake of Terry’s murder, but dozens of weapons continued to show up at crime scenes in Mexico, in addition to the two that were found at the scene where Terry was slain.
Kent Terry, Brian’s brother, said this week’s sentencing may close out the criminal cases, but he’s still waiting for answers about the government’s role in supplying guns involved in the killing.
“That’s the million dollar question,” he told The Washington Times on Thursday.
He also worried that the conditions are deteriorating at the border, putting other agents at risk just as his brother was.
“I talk to a lot of border agents down there in the field and it’s weak. And it all starts with leadership,” he said. “There’s going to be another agent that’s going to get killed for all the smuggling.”
Agent Terry signed up for the Border Patrol in 2006 and became an agent in 2007, just as attention to border security was intensifying. Congress had approved hundreds of miles of border wall, then-President George W. Bush had deployed the National Guard and Homeland Security was hiring thousands of agents.
Terry would eventually join the Border Patrol’s elite tactical squad, which was on patrol that December looking to take down drug runners.
Also out there that night was Favela-Astorga and his rip crew, which was searching for marijuana smugglers they could rob of their loads.
His lawyers argued the rip crew didn’t know they were blasting away at federal agents, saying it was the agents that ambushed them. Favela-Astorga contended they had no reason to think the Border Patrol was anywhere near them that night, rather than another drug-smuggling team, and agents’ announcement of “Policia” was muffled by gunshots,
Prosecutors pointed out that the rip crew had fled from agents just two days earlier, with one man being arrested and the rest dropping their backpacks and fleeing. That meant they knew Border Patrol agents were operating in the area, the government said.
During the firefight, agents used bean-bag rounds at first before switching to their regular firearms, according to testimony from the other Border Patrol team members.
Authorities never proved who fired the actual shot that hit Terry in the lower back. One of the other agents recounted that Terry shouted, “I’m hit! I can’t feel my legs.” A fellow agent rushed to administer first aid but Terry quickly lost consciousness and died at the scene.
The rip crew had five weapons — four AK-47s and an AR-15. The shot came from an AK-47 but tests to determine whether it was one of the two Fast and Furious guns were inconclusive.
The presence of Fast and Furious weapons became a black eye for the Obama Justice Department, which initially misled Congress about it, then later stonewalled requests for documents.
That led to the House voting to hold then-Attorney General Eric H. Holder in contempt of Congress, over the objection of Democrats, who walked out of the vote in a show of solidarity with Mr. Holder.
Kent Terry called that “a slap in my brother’s face.”
Mr. Holder’s Justice Department declined to pursue the case against their boss.
Kent Terry said former President Donald Trump had promised to force the release of all the documents so the real story about Fast and Furious could come out, but it never happened. He said he figured resistance from within the Justice Department derailed the effort, though he said he’s still hopeful answers will come eventually.
As for the prison sentences, he said they’re “not enough.”
“They took a life that night,” he said.
While it bungled the Fast and Furious situation, the Justice Department showed zeal in pursuing Terry’s killers.
Favela-Astorga had fled back to Mexico and was finally tracked down in 2017, seven years after the slaying. He was extradited to the U.S. early in 2020.
In a statement after Wednesday’s sentencing, Randy S. Grossman, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of California, whose office prosecuted the cases, said he hoped concluding the final case could bring some closure.
“Today is for Brian Terry, and his loved ones and colleagues who waited eleven years to see justice come to all who were involved in his tragic murder,” he said. “We hope it fulfills the promise to everyone who protects us.”
The case was prosecuted in Arizona, where the slaying took place, but another prosecutor had to be brought in because the Obama administration’s U.S. attorney for Arizona was tainted by the Fast and Furious situation.