Jury *Just Can't Decide* Whether Basic Human Decency Is A Crime
In Tucson, Arizona, a jury deadlocked yesterday in the federal trial of Scott Warren, the humanitarian border volunteer accused of criminally giving food, water, and shelter to two Central American migrants who had illegally crossed the border. Federal prosecutors said that in helping the migrants, Warren had actually engaged in three felonies: two counts of "harboring" the men from law enforcement, and one count of conspiracy to transport them, although Warren hadn't actually taken them anywhere. If he'd been convicted, the maximum sentence could have been 20 years in federal prison.
But the jury informed US District Judge Raner C. Collins Monday that it was deadlocked, and after additional deliberations Tuesday, said they weren't likely to reach a verdict no matter how much time he gave them. Collins dismissed the jury and scheduled a status conference for July 2, when prosecutors will say whether they plan to retry the case. The jury, which reportedly had eight members voting not guilty and four guilty, left the federal courthouse without talking to reporters.
Warren was charged for his humanitarian spree after two migrants, Jose Sacaria Goday, from Honduras, and Kristian Perez Villanueva, from El Salvador, showed up in January 2018 at "The Barn," a desert base of operations for the nonprofit No More Deaths. Warren and other volunteers gave the men food and water and let them rest, because they were dehydrated and their feet were blistered after walking through a deadly stretch of the Sonoran Desert between Sonoyta, Mexico, and Ajo, Arizona. The feds argued the men weren't in any need of emergency help because -- and we are not making this up -- they took selfies on their phones during their stay at the Barn. Therefore, the only possible explanation for Warren's actions was that he was hiding the men from the Border Patrol, which had the property under surveillance at the time.
The New York Times notes that the laws used against Warren had previously been "used mainly against smugglers who transport migrants for profit, and occasionally against employers who knowingly recruit undocumented workers." But Donald Trump wanted toughness on immigration, so now humanitarian groups are in prosecutors' sights.
The Times also explains where that "conspiracy" charge comes from. Perez testified In a videotaped deposition that after reaching a gas station outside Ajo,
a man offered to drive them to a place to rest. That place was the Barn, located in Ajo, a town of about 3,000 people some 32 miles north of the border.
That driver was identified by prosecutors and a Border Patrol agent as Irineo Mujica, a Mexican-American with dual citizenship who is a leader of the Pueblo Sin Fronteras, a group that has organized caravans from Central America to the United States and operates a shelter on the Mexican side of the border.
So obviously Warren was conspiring with Mujica, the notorious caravan-organizer. Small problem with that, though, as Arizona Daily Star columnist Tim Steller points out: The feds never offered any proof of a conspiracy beyond the fact that Mujica dropped Perez and Sacaria off at the Barn, which was closed and locked at the time. Warren testified he only found them there when he came by 40 minutes later. The feds never indicted Mujica or called him to testify, despite repeated assertions he was a co-conspirator.
Steller notes the prosecutors offered no evidence Warren knew the men would be at the Barn, and had zero evidence Warren had arranged for Mujica to drop them off.
There was no email showing Warren tried to evade Border Patrol. There was no text in which Warren coordinated the arrival or departure of the two men [...]
This was not for lack of trying. The government had access to 14,000 pages of emails, texts and phone records.
But they offered no evidence that harboring or conspiring to harbor these men was Warren's real, hidden intent.
So what was left, in the end, was the government argument that if you give food, water and medical aid to somebody and allow them to hang out for a couple of days without calling the authorities, that is a crime.
It should be noted that Mujica was arrested last week by Mexican authorities, along with another organizer of recent migrant caravans, apparently under pressure from the US government. Mujica was accused of smuggling asylum-seekers for money; Pueblo Sin Fronteras says the arrests were political agitprop, occurring the same day Mexico's secretary of state met with Mike Pence and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
"The Mexican government has detained them to present them as trophies before the United States government," the organization said in a statement. "Despite assurances from the Mexican government that tells us that Mexico makes its own migration policy, this series of events makes it clear that's not the case."
Presumably, if the US government decides to retry Warren, prosecutors will be able to get some testimony from Mujica about that "conspiracy," which as far as we can tell consisted of Mujica knowing where No More Deaths was located.
After the mistrial, Warren read a brief statement to the press:
"In the time since I was arrested in January 2018, no fewer than 88 bodies were recovered from the Arizona desert," he said. "The government's plan in the midst of this humanitarian crisis? Policies to target undocumented people, refugees and their families. Prosecutions to criminalize humanitarian aid, kindness and solidarity."
Well sure, but since undocumented migrants are an "invasion," then obviously anyone giving them food and water is providing aid and comfort to the enemy. Maybe Trump will call for treason charges next time. They'll probably get the chance, since No More Deaths is promising to keep feeding the hungry and helping the stranger, like some radical middle-easterner advocated long ago.
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.