SAN DIEGO – A Mexican man was sentenced to life in prison Friday for striking and killing a U.S. Border Patrol agent with a drug-laden Hummer as the officer laid spike strips in an attempt to puncture the vehicle's tires.
Jesus Navarro testified during his two-week trial that he didn't drive the vehicle that hit the agent at California's Imperial Sand Dunes in January 2008 and that he confessed in Mexico days later only because authorities there beat and threatened him.
"What is being done is an injustice and I will be here on appeal," he said Friday in brief remarks to U.S. District Judge Michael Anello.
The judge rejected Navarro's claims of innocence, just as a jury did when it convicted him in April of second-degree murder and drug charges after only two hours of deliberations.
"This was a particularly brutal, violent and heinous crime," said Anello, who sentenced Navarro, 25, to an additional 80 years in prison on the drug charges.
Agent Luis Aguilar's wife, Erica, fondly recalled her husband's infectious smile and pancake breakfasts. She now hears her son crying in the shower, "Why did he have to die? Why did you have to kill him?"
"You are selfish person with no sense of humanity or integrity," she told Navarro.
Aguilar's daughter, Arianna, clutched her mother's waist and cried before she stepped on a stool to share cherished memories of hiding under the sheets when her father came home and getting toys on her father's payday.
Border Patrol Agent German Burgoin emotionally described Aguilar's final moments as the Hummer sped toward them. Burgoin climbed a construction fence and yelled at his 32-year-old partner to run.
"Luis and I locked eyes for a split second and then the unthinkable happened," Burgoin said.
U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy, who attended the sentencing, said she was "very gratified" by the punishment and that Navarro is ineligible for parole.
"This is a case that demonstrates that justice can be brought about by the law," she told reporters.
Navarro's attorney, David Bartick, sought a 40-year sentence, saying Aguilar was not wearing his uniform and that the killing was not premeditated.
Navarro was extradited to the United States last year following two botched efforts to capture him. In September 2007, the Border Patrol caught him with 980 pounds of marijuana in a truck that got stuck in sand. As he waited handcuffed in the backseat of a Border Patrol vehicle, his female partner in the front seat seized the wheel and escaped to Mexico.
Shortly after Aguilar died, Navarro was arrested in Mexico and signed a detailed confession to the killing — under force, he later said. He was held in Mexican prison until a judge cleared him of unrelated migrant smuggling charges and released him five months later.
U.S. officials were outraged by Navarro's release, but the Mexican government said that the United States hadn't arranged for extradition.
"There was a crossing of wires in the processing of that paperwork and the release of Mr. Navarro," Duffy told reporters Friday, without elaborating.
The U.S. government was offering a reward of up to $350,000 when Mexican agents arrested him again, in February 2009, near Zihuatenejo.
Navarro testified at his trial that he was in the central Mexican state of Sinaloa on the day Aguilar was killed and that Mexican authorities who were working closely with U.S. officials forced him to confess to a crime he didn't commit.
Navarro said he stopped driving loads of drugs after his 2007 run-in with the Border Patrol. His attorney told jurors that Navarro was "basically expelled" from his drug smuggling organization.
Prosecutors highlighted testimony of Navarro's collaborators that he remained an active smuggler after the 2007 incident. Eyewitnesses to Aguilar's killing identified Navarro as the driver in photos.
Navarro's 9-year-old daughter and other family wrote the judge to plead for leniency.
"He is a responsible person who does not deserve to be in there," wrote Karla Nunez, his wife of 10 years with whom he had three children. "Please don't give him too much time, his children need him."
Aguilar is one of 23 Border Patrol agents who have died in the line of duty since 1990. He had been an agent for nearly six years and was assigned to the Yuma, Ariz., sector.