Bush's decision to commute the sentences of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, who tried to cover up the shooting, was welcomed by both Republican and Democratic members of Congress. They had long argued that the agents were merely doing their jobs, defending the American border against criminals. They also maintained that the more than 10-year prison sentences the pair was given were too harsh.
Rancor over their convictions, sentencing and firings has simmered ever since the shooting occurred in 2005.
Ramos and Compean became a rallying point among conservatives and on talk shows where their supporters called them heroes. Nearly the entire bipartisan congressional delegation from Texas and other lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle pleaded with Bush to grant them clemency.
Bush didn't pardon the men for their crimes, but decided instead to commute their prison sentences because he believed they were excessive and that they had already suffered the loss of their jobs, freedom and reputations, a senior administration official said.
The action by the president, who believes the border agents received fair trials and that the verdicts were just, does not diminish the seriousness of their crimes, the official said.
Compean and Ramos, who have served about two years of their sentences, are expected to be released from prison within the next two months.
They were convicted of shooting admitted drug smuggler Osvaldo Aldrete Davila in the buttocks as he fled across the Rio Grande, away from an abandoned van load of marijuana. The border agents argued during their trials that they believed the smuggler was armed and that they shot him in self defense. The prosecutor in the case said there was no evidence linking the smuggler to the van of marijuana. The prosecutor also said the border agents didn't report the shooting and tampered with evidence by picking up several spent shell casings.
The agents were fired after their convictions on several charges, including assault with a dangerous weapon and with serious bodily injury, violation of civil rights and obstruction of justice. All their convictions, except obstruction of justice, were upheld on appeal.
A pardon would have been worse -- the men will still have served over two years in prison.
The fact that some people consider these men heroes for shooting an unarmed, fleeing man (even if that man was himself a criminal) is a sign of just far out of control our discourse has gotten on border security and/or the war on drugs. My understanding is that police officers cannot shoot at a fleeing suspect unless it is a case where deadly force would be warranted, and this wasn't it.