Supporters of two former Border Patrol agents facing years in prison for the shooting of a fleeing drug smuggler are urging President Bush to commute their sentences. And if that fails, their lawyers plan to take their case to the Supreme Court.
Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean, former Border Patrol agents, were convicted two years ago of assault, discharge of a weapon in the commission of a crime of violence, deprivation of civil rights and tampering with an official.
Ramos was sentenced to 11 years in prison and Compean to 12, the bulk of the time coming from a mandatory 10-year minimum sentence for discharging their weapon.
The charges stemmed from a February 2005 incident involving a drug smuggler, Osvaldo Aldrete Davila, whom Ramos and Compean shot in the buttocks as he tried to flee from them in Fabens, Tex. The agents didn't report the incident, so it is unclear whether Davila possessed a weapon when he was shot. The agents say they thought he had a weapon; Davila says he didn't.
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In September, the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals threw out one of their several convictions and sent the case back to a lower court for resentencing. Last week, in U.S. District Court, their convictions on the other charges were upheld, and Ramos and Compean were resentenced to their original terms.
Now the men have two choices, take their appeal to the Supreme Court or hope for President Bush to commute their sentences.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., has spoken out in support of Ramos and Compean since he first heard about the case, and he will be lobbying members of Congress to rally to their side this week.
"All decent Americans are now calling on President Bush to show some mercy towards these unjustly convicted men who never should have been prosecuted in the first place," Rohrabacher said Thursday in a statement.
He and Rep. Bill Delahunt, D-Mass., are joining forces to get Congress to urge the president to act quickly and commute their sentences.
"We're going to be submitting a bipartisan letter to the U.S. pardon attorney in support of commutation. This is something that Congressman Rohrabacher is committed to and has been unrelenting on since he first heard about the case, and that committment remains strong," said his spokeswoman, Tara Setmeyer.
"We hope their status as members of Congress would hold some weight with the president," she said. "It's in the hands of the executive branch at this point."
The president is the ultimate authority on granting commutations and pardons, a power granted in the Constitution.
The Justice Department's Office of the Pardon Attorney reviews petitions and makes recommendations to the president on whether to grant pardons and commutations, but the president is not required to comply.
In his eight years in office, President Bush has received more than 7,800 petitions for commutation. He has granted six.
A petition for commutation has been filed, Ramos's lawyer, David Botsford, said, but a spokesman for the Office of the Pardon Attorney said Friday that the petition was closed without action, because the border agents' legal options have not been exhausted.
U.S. presidents traditionally issue pardons and sentence commutations in their final days in office. A spokesman for the White House declined to comment on the issue.
Botsford said that if Bush does not commute Ramos' sentence, he will take the case to the Supreme Court.
"It's all based on what the Fifth Circuit did and didn't do in the opinion. There are a number of legal issues in that opinion that are very, very crucial for law enforcement throughout the country," Bostford told FOXNews.com.
"There are some issues ... dealing with use of force and the right to use deadly force that are implicated by this opinion, in addition to the constitutional issue about whether Congress ever intended a 10-year mandatory sentence to be imposed upon a police officer in the lawful performance of his duties," he said.
"But I'd rather get a commutation than go to the Supreme Court," he added.
The case has garnered the attention of organizations such as the National Border Patrol Council, which has helped raise money for the men's legal defense and says that U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton has been overzealous in his prosecution of the two former agents.
"His whole case rests on the word of a convicted, admitted, confessed drug smuggler who claims that he was unarmed, and that just doesn't comport with reality," T.J. Bonner, the president of the NBPC, told FOXNews.com.
Sutton maintains that the officers broke the law when they shot Davila.
"The simple truth of this case is that former Agents Compean and Ramos shot 15 times at an unarmed man who was running away from them and posed no threat," he said in September. "They lied about what happened, covered up the shooting, and then proceeded to write up and file a false report."
Bonner said the ruling against the former agents has opened the doorway to doubt for all law enforcement agents.
"They're wondering now — and maybe it's just a millisecond of doubt or it might be just a few seconds of doubt or perhaps even a failure to react properly when confronted with a situation that calls for swift decisive action — because they're wondering in the back of their mind, could the same thing happen to me?," Bonner said. "Could I end up being prosecuted simply for defending myself against an armed felon?
"And that should not be part of their thought process," he said. "They should be confident that their government will back them up, not back them into a corner."
FOXNews.com's Jennifer Lawinski and Sara Bonisteel contributed to this report.