SAN DIEGO -- A 17-year-old Mexican youth was sentenced Thursday to 40 years in prison for the murder of a U.S. Border Patrol agent who was shot repeatedly during a robbery attempt.
Christian Daniel Castro Alvarez sat silently with his head down throughout the sentencing by U.S. District Judge M. James Lorenz in San Diego.
Castro pleaded guilty in November to murdering a federal officer near Campo, a mountainous area about 60 miles east of San Diego. He told authorities that he and others were attempting to rob the agent, Robert Rosas.
The sentencing came as a furious debate rages around America on a new Arizona law that requires local and state law enforcement officers to question people about their immigration statuses if there's reason to suspect they're in the country illegally.
The courtroom was packed with uniformed Border Patrol agents as the judge read a letter written by the defendant apologizing to the family of the 30-year-old Rosas.
Rosas was shot several times in the head, from behind and while lying on the ground. Castro's attorney had argued that two accomplices now in Mexico fired the fatal shots.
Castro told authorities the killing occurred during the attempted robbery he was forced to commit under threat of death.
A probation officer had urged a life sentence for Castro. Federal guidelines call for a minimum sentence of 30 years.
Rosas was the first Border Patrol agent to be killed by gunfire since 1998, according to The Officer Down Memorial Page, a website that tracks death of law enforcement officers.
U.S. authorities say Castro acted with others but have not said how many or announced arrests. The suspects are believed to have fled back to Mexico through a small crevice under a border fence made of corrugated metal, sparking a massive search on both sides of the border.
Castro surrendered to authorities at a San Diego border crossing last August, less than a month after Rosas died on the night of July 23, but his capture was not announced until he pleaded guilty three months later. He was charged as an adult.
Castro confessed that he and others lured Rosas out of his Border Patrol vehicle by leaving footprints on a dirt road, shaking bushes and making noises, according to prosecutors. Rosas, who was patrolling alone, was ambushed and stripped of his gun about 100 yards from the border.
Castro, who was 16 at the time, told authorities he was holding Rosas at gunpoint when the agent reached for Castro's firearm. Castro shot once and shouted for help to his collaborators, who were walking toward Rosas' vehicle. They opened fire.
Castro said one of his collaborators shot him in the hand, leaving a trail of blood back to Mexico. Castro's DNA matched the blood.