HOUSTON – Jurors considering whether a truck driver should be sentenced to death for his role in America's deadliest human smuggling attempt heard more emotional testimony Wednesday from relatives of the 19 people killed.
"My father didn't deserve to die the way he did. He was not an animal," Julieta Salgado Perez said during the second day of testimony from relatives. "I ask for justice."
Her father, Mateo Salgado Perez, was one of 19 illegal immigrants who died in the 2003 smuggling attempt from South Texas to Houston.
Jurors convicted Tyrone Williams, 35, last month on 58 counts of conspiracy, harboring and transporting immigrants. Williams, a Jamaican citizen who lived in Schenectady, New York, is the only one of 14 people charged in the case who is facing the death penalty.
The sentencing phase of the trial, delayed by an attorney's illness and the holidays, began Tuesday and also included tearful testimony from relatives. Jurors cried during some testimony.
Before relatives testified Tuesday, prosecutors showed a video of Williams' trailer after the immigrants were discovered. Half-naked and bruised bodies were piled on top of each other. The body of the youngest victim, a 5-year boy only in his underwear, could be seen face down. Clothes and empty water bottles were scattered on the floor.
More than 70 immigrants were stuffed inside the trailer.
Nineteen died of dehydration, overheating and suffocation after nearly four hours inside the oven-like container. Williams abandoned the trailer at a truck stop in Victoria, about 100 miles southwest of Houston.
Craig Washington, Williams' lead attorney, has told jurors his client never intended for the immigrants to die and he is remorseful and can be rehabilitated. Washington said other members of the smuggling ring Williams worked with were equally culpable for what happened, but pointed out that none of them are facing a possible death sentence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Rodriguez said Williams merits a death sentence because by not freeing the immigrants, he intentionally committed an act that caused the deaths.
In 2005, a jury convicted Williams on 38 transporting counts, but he avoided a death sentence because the jury could not agree on his role in the smuggling attempt. The jury deadlocked on the 20 other counts.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the decision, saying the verdict did not count because the jury failed to specify his role in the crime.