Open Season

Border authorities fear a return to the law of the Wild West as Texas homeowners take up guns against illegal Mexican immigrants

"Just recently, in a road-rage incident, a northern California man was appropriately given a three-year sentence for killing a dog. But for rage against a Mexican? Less than the price of a used car," read the August 31 column.

After the criminal trial, de Haro's family vowed to press on with a civil lawsuit filed against Blackwood, but, a representative said, they are not motivated by a lust for revenge.

"They feel strongly about this. It's not that they want Mr. Blackwood to be put away for 100 years, or to win $1 million. The important thing to them is that the next kid in the same situation doesn't get shot," says George Shaffer, a San Antonio lawyer who is retained by the Mexican Consulate in San Antonio.

Eusebio de Haro, top, posed for a calendar picture with his wife, Juana Rangel, and daughter Rosa. Rangel, below with her daughter, is suing Kinney County rancher Sam Blackwood, who shot and killed de Haro after he asked Blackwood for a drink of water.
San Antonio Express-News
Eusebio de Haro, top, posed for a calendar picture with his wife, Juana Rangel, and daughter Rosa. Rangel, below with her daughter, is suing Kinney County rancher Sam Blackwood, who shot and killed de Haro after he asked Blackwood for a drink of water.
As he was taken to Val Verde County jail after pleading guilty earlier this month to killing a Mexican youth in 1999, Patrick Bordelon, left, paused to lecture investigator Lieutenant Larry Pope about the shortcomings of the case against him and denied firing the shot that killed Luis Armando Chavez Vaquera.
San Antonio Express-News
As he was taken to Val Verde County jail after pleading guilty earlier this month to killing a Mexican youth in 1999, Patrick Bordelon, left, paused to lecture investigator Lieutenant Larry Pope about the shortcomings of the case against him and denied firing the shot that killed Luis Armando Chavez Vaquera.


By contrast, Bordelon's two recent trials in Del Rio were strangely anticlimactic. They drew few spectators and fewer reporters, and the ethnic rage that had surfaced at the Blackwood trial was absent.

In December 2001, Bordelon went to trial on attempted murder charges in the June 1999 shooting of Ivan Misael Sepulveda Mendez. The youth, 16, was hit by shotgun pellets while wading in the river in front of Bordelon's home.

Bordelon's lawyer, Rozan, set the confrontational tone in his opening statement by trying to make Mexico the defendant instead of his client.

"This is not a case about attempted murder or aggravated assault. This is a case about one country, Mexico, versus another country, the United States," he told the jury. "This is a case about a war zone in the Vega Verde, where you have daily and weekly confrontations with multitudes of young men who come over to burglarize and rob American homes."

District Attorney Hernandez, by contrast, said he was prosecuting a simple border shooting: "This case is about the facts. There is no international angle as far as I'm concerned."

As Bordelon's defense unfolded, it took two tracks: First that the youth was trespassing and a potential menace to Bordelon and his wife, Dora, and second, that Bordelon's war-related mental problems caused him to overreact.

During the trial, a psychologist from the Kerrville Veterans Administration Hospital testified that Bordelon had chronic, severe, post traumatic stress disorder stemming from his one-year tour of duty at a military base in Thailand where he worked as a jet mechanic.

There was little dispute about the basic facts.

Bordelon readily admitted shooting the youth but said he was only trying to scare him off. Sepulveda testified he had crossed the river only to retrieve his dogs and never even set foot on the U.S. side before being hit.

Before the verdict, Bordelon told a reporter: "It was fight or flee, and I'm not one to back down. I will not be pushed around on my own land."

After two hours of deliberation, the jury convicted him on the lesser charge of aggravated assault. The trial judge, Mike McCormick, sentenced him to serve three and a half years in prison.

At his subsequent trial for the murder of Chavez Vaquera, which began in early May, Bordelon surprised everyone by agreeing to a plea bargain before a jury was even selected. In exchange for his plea of guilty to manslaughter, he was sentenced to serve seven years in prison, to run concurrently with his sentence in the earlier case. He will be eligible for release in three and a half years.

The dramatic denouement to the controversial case came with few witnesses on hand. The family of the dead youth was absent, as were most of the 650 people who once signed a petition of support for Bordelon.

Only Mexican Consul Roberto Canseco, lawyer Shaffer, Tommy Vick and one other friend of Bordelon's were present when the case finally came to an end.

Canseco declined to comment on the appropriateness of the plea agreement, observing only that it appeared to satisfy the letter of the American law.

Vick was dismayed and said the outcome will only encourage more crime on the Vega Verde. Bordelon declined to talk to reporters after his plea and again later when he was in jail. But as he was being led from the courthouse to a waiting patrol car for the trip to his cell, he paused to lecture one of the investigating officers about shortcomings of the case against him.

And despite his guilty plea, he repeated his claim of innocence.

"I did not shoot anyone, and that's all I have to say," he shouted.


For reasons that remain unclear, the border shootings have all but subsided in South Texas. Over the last 18 months, there has been only one such incident between an American and a Mexican immigrant.

One obvious factor has been the dramatic decline in illegal immigration through the region since the September 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, which heightened border security.

The most recent statistics for the Del Rio Border Patrol sector show only 46,471 apprehensions in the seven-month period ending April 30. By contrast, over the same period last year, 72,690 people were caught, and for the same seven-month stretch a year earlier, the figure stood at 107,712.

But Hernandez, the Val Verde County district attorney who prosecuted three of the cases and has one to go, believes other factors, including widespread publicity about the trials, have helped check the shootings.

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