HOUSTON – A woman was sentenced Monday to time served for her role in the nation's deadliest human smuggling attempt that killed 19 illegal immigrants who crammed into a sweltering trailer.
Norma Gonzalez Sanchez, 45, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for harboring and transporting illegal immigrants and causing serious injury or death as a result. She pleaded guilty to the charges in November 2004.
Sanchez already served 33 months in prison since her arrest. Her attorney, Wendell Odom, said he expected his client to be released late Monday.
Prosecutors had wanted a stiffer penalty for Sanchez, who faced up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine. They said Sanchez helped arrange the smuggling of more than 70 immigrants into the United States from Mexico, Central America and the Dominican Republic.
The immigrants were abandoned at a truck stop near Victoria, about 100 miles southwest of Houston, in May 2003. Seventeen were found dead at the scene, and two others died later from dehydration, heat and suffocation.
Sanchez used a Mexican restaurant she owned to set up smuggling arrangements and collect fees from immigrants, prosecutors said.
During sentencing, U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore ruled that Sanchez could not reasonably foresee that the other members of the smuggling ring would have placed the immigrants in danger by putting them in the trailer.
In all, 14 people were indicted in the case. Five were convicted and six pleaded guilty. Charges against two were dismissed and one man remains a fugitive.
Prosecutors want to retry the truck's driver, Tyrone Williams, who was convicted of transporting illegal immigrants, on other counts that could bring the death penalty.