Published July 09, 2012
The Justice Department unsealed an indictment Monday charging five people in connection with Border Patrol agent Brian Terry's death -- a move that drew praise as well as skepticism from lawmakers laser-focused on the case.
The department, in unsealing the document, also announced a reward of up to $1 million for information leading to the arrest of four suspects who are still at large.
The developments come amid an intensifying debate over the department's failed Fast and Furious anti-gunrunning operation. Weapons from that program were found at Terry's murder scene -- Republicans seeking documents pertaining to Fast and Furious last month escalated their probe by voting to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, praised the department Monday for its announcement but questioned the timing.
"I applaud what they're doing, but I condemn the timing. It's very clear that the timing has everything to do with the House of Representatives holding Eric Holder in contempt," Issa told Fox News.
Issa, who led the contempt push, said Justice could have been doing more to find the suspects all along -- he called the timing of the FBI reward money "another example of using politics over good policy."
In a statement, the Brian Terry Foundation also applauded federal prosecutors for taking additional steps to bring suspects to justice, but continued to call on Holder to turn over Fast and Furious documents.
"Today's developments certainly mean that the criminal prosecution of Brian Terry's killers is moving forward," Terry family attorney Patrick McGroder said.
The 11-count indictment, originally handed up by a grand jury in November 2011, implicates five defendants in the killing. A sixth suspect has also been charged in a related incident.
The two men in custody are Manuel Osario Arellanes -- who was wounded in the foot the night of the firefight -- and his brother Rito. Rito, who was arrested two nights before the Terry shooting, allegedly helped provide weapons to the criminal gang used in the shooting. All six men named in the indictment are either related or friends.
The other four are believed to be hiding out in Mexico, and the U.S. is now offering a reward of up to $1 million for information leading to their arrest. They are: Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga; Ivan Soto-Barraza; Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes; and Lionel Portillo-Meza.
According to the indictment, the five defendants are charged with crimes including first-degree murder, second-degree murder and assault on a federal officer. The indictment alleges that the five defendants also assaulted three other Border Patrol agents who were with Terry.
For the first time, federal officials also revealed that Terry and the elite squad of federal agents initially fired bean bags -- not bullets -- at the heavily armed drug cartel crew in the mountains south of Tucson in December 2010. During the exchange, Terry was shot and killed.
"Agent Terry served his country honorably and made the ultimate sacrifice in trying to protect it from harm, and we will stop at nothing to bring those responsible for his murder to justice," Holder said in a statement. "This investigation has previously resulted in one defendant being charged with Agent Terry's murder and taken into custody, and today's announcement reflects the department's unrelenting commitment to finding and arresting the other individuals responsible for this horrific tragedy so that Agent Terry's family, friends and fellow law enforcement agents receive the justice they deserve."
The names of the four suspects were revealed Monday, and their pictures released, to the public. Police in the U.S. and in Mexico are cooperating and under intense pressure to find them.
The FBI says it has been actively searching for the outstanding fugitives.
Despite the skepticism voiced Monday by Issa about the timing of the announcement, other lawmakers described the reward as strictly positive news.
"Unsealing the indictment and offering a reward in this case is an important step in the right direction. I hope the additional press attention will prompt someone with information to come forward and help the FBI find those who are guilty of Agent Terry's murder and bring them to justice," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, noting he had inquired earlier as to why the suspects' names were not on the most-wanted list.
Issa's Democratic counterpart on the oversight committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., also commended the department "for its vigorous pursuit of justice for Brian Terry's family."
The case is being prosecuted in Tuscon by federal attorneys from the department's southern California district.
Anyone with information on the fugitives is asked to call the FBI's Phoenix office at 623-466-1999.
Fox News' William LaJeunesse contributed to this report.