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By Anna Merlan
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But the case of Eusebio de Haro, a 22-year-old from Guanajuato, was different. De Haro was a carpenter's helper and a family man, not a house burglar, and he died running from the muzzle of the gun.
De Haro had lived in the United States illegally for almost a year before he was arrested on a domestic violence charge in Kerr County in February 2000 and then deported to Mexico in early May. He immediately recrossed the border and was returning to his wife and daughter in Kerrville when he died on May 13, 2000, in the brush north of Brackettville.
De Haro bled to death after being shot in the back of the leg by Sam Blackwood, an elderly rancher who had retired to Kinney County from Arkansas years earlier.
To Mexicans, the case was the perfect example of the worst that can happen when a trigger-happy, xenophobic American encounters a Mexican far from home or help.
As Blackwood's trial unfolded last August in Brackettville, the aging defendant and Juana Rangel, 19, de Haro's wife, crossed paths in a corridor. "That's the old man who shot him. I feel like shooting him myself, but I'm not as cold-blooded as he is," said Rangel, who, like de Haro, was living in the United States illegally.
During the weeklong trial no persuasive evidence emerged to contradict the testimony of de Haro's traveling companion that the shooting had been unprovoked and entirely avoidable.
Javier Sanchez, a Mexican who had been walking several days with de Haro from the border, said the confrontation occurred shortly after the two had stopped at the front gate of the Blackwood house and politely asked for water. Turned away, the two walked away from the house, only to have the elderly pair pursue them in a pickup truck. Sanchez said that when Blackwood emerged with a pistol in hand, both Mexicans broke for cover.
"I ran. I jumped some of the brush. I didn't see what Eusebio was doing. That's when I heard the first shot," he testified.
At the second shot, his friend cried out.
"I heard Eusebio saying, 'They hit me.' I managed to turn around, and I saw him on the ground," Sanchez recalled.
Hiding in the bushes, Sanchez said he saw Mrs. Blackwood approach the wounded man.
"The lady asked him, was he hit hard." He said, 'Yes, but why did you do that? I didn't do nothing,'" Sanchez said.
Sam Blackwood, said Sanchez, lit his pipe and waited by the truck.
Before help arrived, de Haro bled to death.
During the weeklong trial, the elderly defendant did not testify or offer comment to the press. Friends, however, described him as a lovable, peaceful man.
Blackwood's wife, Brenda, took the stand and claimed that the shooting occurred as the two Mexicans were aggressively charging the elderly pair, but nothing supported her story.
Blackwood's lawyer Mark Stevens proffered a theory of a ricocheting bullet, which would have explained the wound to the back of de Haro's leg, but convinced no one.
Kinney County Sheriff Leland Burgess, who investigated the shooting, said that when he first responded to the scene, he was "praying" he would find evidence that Blackwood had acted in self-defense.
"You bet I was on Sam's side. I have no ties to the Mexican government. My ties are to Kinney County. Sam is my friend," Burgess testified. "If I could have proved self-defense, it would have gone away. But after I got back, I figured out it was just murder."
In his closing arguments, Blackwood's lawyer cited the international aspect of the case, claiming the prosecution of his client was prompted by high-level pressure from Mexico City.
"Justice is not what is driving this prosecution. Politics is driving it," Stevens told the jury. "We've heard about the involvement of the Mexican government since the beginning. Sam Blackwood is caught right in the middle of this. It's a political football."
But District Attorney Fred Hernandez said Mexico had nothing to do with the case. The issue, he said, was unprovoked violence against Mexicans passing through the country.
"You've got to send a message. Either it's not OK to shoot illegal aliens in the back, or it's open season. Go at it," he said.
Hours later, Blackwood was convicted of misdemeanor deadly conduct, the only charge he faced. After being sentenced, he walked free. Instead of prison time, the jury gave him a suspended sentence, probation and fined him $4,000.
The sentence provoked harsh anger among Mexicans and certain Mexican-Americans for its perceived leniency.
"It's a wonder that this May 2000 murder and recent outrageous court decision is even news. It's right out of a '50s Western in which the gunslinger brags about the number of cowboys he's killed 'not counting Mexicans.' The fact is, for killing a Mexican, Blackwood was convicted simply of a misdemeanor 'dangerous conduct' charge," wrote Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez, two Universal Press Syndicate columnists.
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