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Border Patrol Agent Goes On Trial For Murder Of Mexican Teenager

Taide Elena holds a portrait of her dead grandson Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez in 2012.
(Photo by Michel Marizco - KJZZ)
Taide Elena holds a portrait of her dead grandson Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez in 2012.

Jury selection started Tuesday morning in the Tucson murder trial of a U.S. Border Patrol agent accused of placing his gun between the bars of the U.S.-Mexico border wall and shooting and killing a Mexican teenager in 2012.

Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz sat between two of his attorneys in federal court Tuesday morning. Gone were the crew cut and sharp mustache he wore when he was first indicted nearly three years ago. His wavy red hair was neatly combed to one side. He wore a dark suit and tie and spent most of the morning writing in a yellow legal pad.

Tucson chief Judge Raner Collins questioned prospective jurors for this case, one of the most anticipated federal cases being heard in Arizona right now.

In 2012, Swartz said he and other law enforcement were being attacked by rocks thrown from the border wall. Swartz reacted by running to the wall, placing his semiautomatic pistol through the bars of the border wall and firing 16 times, striking Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez at least ten times.

Araceli Rodriguez, the boy’s mother, was in the courtroom today:

"Como made de Jose Antonio es que esta persona pague por el crimen que cometió. Que pague con una condena que hizo."

She said she wants Swartz to pay for the crime he is accused of committing.

Prosecutions of federal agents along the border for shooting incidences are rare. Swartz is only about the third to be charged in Arizona in nearly 20 years, and his lawyers are preparing to argue that the boy was on the fence throwing rocks at the agent before Swartz fired.

Border Patrol Tucson union president Art del Cueto made the same argument as the dead teen’s mother.

"Our expectations are pretty simple, what we always wanted, for justice to prevail," del Cueto said.

The trial is expected to continue all spring.

Fronteras Desk senior editor Michel Marizco is an award-winning investigative reporter based in Flagstaff.