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Tuesday, June 26, 2001

Furgeson tosses jury's pot case guilty verdict

Staff Writer

PECOS, Tuesday, June 26, 2001 -- Six men were acquitted of federal drug charges after Federal  Judge Royal Furgeson reversed the jury's guilty verdict on Friday afternoon  at the Lucious Bunton Federal Courthouse.

On March 2, 2001, U.S. Border Patrol officers arrested six men, Eloy Hernandez-Bautista, Prudencio Garcia-Rodriguez, Amado Ochoa-Bernal, Jesus Gutierrez-Guzman, Jose Gutierrez-Guzman and Jesus Ornelas-Yanez, all of Mexico, and charged them with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.

According to defense attorney Rod Ponten, five of the six men, excluding Hernandez, had walked across the border to the U.S. looking for employment.

"They were just coming up here to work," he said.

Ponten said that the five men walking from Mexico did not even know Hernandez, who was traveling on Chispa Road when the Border Patrol stopped him.

According to a narrative in the federal case file, Hernandez was stopped on Chispa Road and the Border Patrol officers searched the Chevrolet truck that he was driving but found no drugs.

While officers were talking with Hernandez, another Border Patrol agent traveled southbound on the road to determine if other vehicles were waiting for Hernandez and discovered an abandoned Chevrolet truck with a flat tire, according to the file.

Hernandez admitted that the abandoned truck was his.

Border Patrol officers discovered footprints around the abandoned vehicle that led into the brush toward a "prominent landmark."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Miller said that the Border Patrol officers called on the expertise of a 22-year veteran footprint expert.

Miller said that expert followed the footprints to five duffel bags that carried a total of 257 pounds of marijuana.

He went on to say that the footprint expert picked up more tracks a few yards away that led to the five men hiding in the brush close to Needle Peak.

According to Miller, Border Patrol officers examined the five individuals and found red marks on their chests that it was "as if they were carrying something heavy."

He said that the footprint expert then examined the bottom of the individuals' shoes and determined that they were the same as the footprints left behind at the site of the abandoned truck.

Ponten said that he did not believe that the government had any evidence to prove that the five men in the brush had been in possession at one time of the marijuana.

"They didn't want to get caught by Border Patrol but they didn't know anything about the marijuana," he said.

Ponten said that the men were hiding because they saw the Border Patrol lights driving up and down the road.

Dick DeGuerin, also with the defense, said that there is no feasible way that the five men could have been in possession of the marijuana at any time that night.

DeGuerin said that the area around Chispa Road is very rough and in order to travel from the road to the area where the duffel bags were found the men would have had to travel through very rough terrain, including climbing up a cliff.

"The terrain where the marijuana was found is extremely tough," he said.

DeGuerain also said that the Border Patrol found the men approximately three miles from the drugs.

He said that with the terrain being so rough and having no flashlight to travel by it would be impossible for the men to have had possession of the drugs.

He believes that neither the five men in the brush or Hernandez ever had possession of the marijuana.

"What I think is that the marijuana was stashed a few days earlier," he said.

Ponten said that the prosecution had no concrete evidence that linked the six men to the marijuana.

"They were accused of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute but they were never found or proven to be in possession," he said.

Miller said that he did not believe the individuals' claim that they were walking across to find work because they did not have many provisions with them.

He said that when the Border Patrol found the men, they did not have either a change of clothes or much food with them.

DeGuerin said that that was not true, he said that the men did not have a change of clothes but they did have water and tins of food that would have sustained all of them.

The defense attorney said that neither the mens' provisions bag nor the bags of marijuana could be entered in as evidence because the Border Patrol destroyed the bags of marijuana and either lost or destroyed the provisions bag.

"We weren't able to bring it to court to show the jury what they had," he said.

After hearing the evidence explained from both the defense and prosecution the jury went into deliberation.

Miller said that after the 12 jurors deliberated for four hours they came back and handed up a guilty verdict, but once the jury was released Judge Furgeson granted a motion of a judgment of acquittal.

All three lawyers agreed that the judge's decision was quite unusual for this area.

"It's the first time I've every had it done and I've practiced for 10 years," Miller said.

Miller said that he believed that the trial was very fair and that the jury heard all the evidence.

He said that the jury listened to testimonies from three Border Patrol officers, three of the defendants and three family members of the defendants.

DeGuerin said that he was disappointed with the jury's decision.

He said that he believes that it is hard for jurors in this area to come into a trial with unbiased opinions because the jury pool is so small and a lot of the same jurors are used over and over again.

"You're going to have to reuse people," he said.

DeGuerin also said that because some jurors are reused they feel like they know more about the legal process.

"They don't think like unbiased jurors," he said. "They think they are part of the prosecuting team."

Miller said that the prosecution is planning to appeal the judge's decision.

Furgeson could not comment on the trial at this time but would release his opinion early next week.

Ponten said that the defense attorneys were not happy with the jury's decision but were pleased with the judge's decision.

"We're just real happy that we're able to let our innocent clients return to their families in Mexico," he said.

The men remain held on illegal entry charges, and next step, Ponten said, is to appear at a hearing on July 5 for the six men in efforts to get a bond set for each of them.

"We think it's wrong for innocent men to continue to be held in jail," he said.

State laws may close city's pool

Staff Writer

PECOS, Tuesday, June 26, 2001 -- The City of Pecos is looking to find funds to help keep the City  Athletic Pool open so that the children of Pecos would have something to  do during future summer vacations.

After being open for over three decades, the city has had to go in several times and repatch the pool floor due to leakage. However according to City Health and Sanitation Director Armando Gil, if someone is to jump on certain spots of the pool floor would tend to bounce back due to the water that is trapped underneath it.

The pool at Maxey Park is open this summer, but in order for the pool to continue to stay open in the future and at the same time meet the qualifications of the Texas Department of Health, the repairs alone would cost the Town of Pecos City about $500,000, Gil said.

"The city can not afford that. Right now I am in the process of looking for grants," Gil said. "The grants that I am looking at are grants that the Texas Parks and Wildlife has to offer. There are grants out there for pools."

However, Gil said that there is a waiting list of pools trying to get these grants. He also said that for a pool to get a grant they would have to provide some form of a recreational area. This area is also to be owned by the city and would have to provide a small park for children to play in and a place where people could jog.

"The grants are on a 50/50 basis," Gil said. "They provide the money and you provide the manpower and/or the equipment."

With a lot of city pools also closing down in the Odessa, Monahans, Pyote, and Wickett areas, Gil also thinks that big cities will receive the grants.

"There is more of a demand in Odessa because of population," Gil said.

However, he also said that he has not heard of any city that as of yet received any grant money. But he has heard that local businesses in Odessa are donating money so that the city may be able to construct new pools.

In the Texas Department of Health Standards for Public Swimming Pool and Spa guidelines, the Athletic Pool is classified as a Class B pool. This means that it is used for public recreation and is opened to the general public with or without a fee.

A Class B pool must also provide a rope and float lines between one foot and two feet on the shallow side of the five-foot depth along and parallel to this depth from one side of the pool to the other side. Also the transition in a Class B pool from the shallow area to the deep area (five-foot deep) shall be visually set apart with four-inch minimum width row of the floor tile, a painted line or similar means using a color contrasting with the bottom.

If the pool continues to stay opened for another two to three years there would be a possibility that Pecos would be fined by the TDH because of the state's concerns for pool safety.

"The state is more concerned with the safety of the pool," Gil said.

However City Manger Carlos Yerena said that the city is looking into an alternative so that it can keep the pool open.

"We are not closing. I want to make that clear," Yerena said. "We are looking for avenues to build a new one or to be able to bring the pool up to standards."

When the county-operated pool on the north side closed, Gil said that he saw more people come to the city pool, which is located next to Rocket Park. During the weekend, he said that they have gotten up to 130 kids.

"One of the problems is overcrowding," Gil said

The county however is looking into reopening the county pool and because of its age and size it may be more affordable, Gil said. The north side pool was built by the county 18 years ago and is located at Ash and `B' streets.

County moves forward in dispute with Banes

Staff Writer

PECOS, Tuesday, June 26, 2001 -- Reeves County Commissioners discussed and approved  several items during their regular meeting held Monday at the Reeves  County Courthouse.

The group met behind closed doors to discuss and take action on a dispute with Banes General Contractors. Commissioners discussed arbitration/litigation/employ all necessary professionals and authorize all necessary action in the dispute and in open session approved going through with arbitration/litigation and authorizing all necessary action.

The county and Banes are in a dispute over work on the RCDC II project, which expanded the prison from 1,000 to 2,000 beds. The project was scheduled to be completed in September 2000, but work was not finished until early this year.

In open session commissioners approved, payment invoice #174, #180 and #181 to Lorraine M. Dailey, architect; West Texas Junior Golf Champions Tour; interagency agreements with the Trans Pecos Drug Task Force and Midland County and the City of Pecos; deputation and oath for Lionel Garza; property bids as presented; RCDC inmate transportation crew payment for services; reimbursement of lost property; reports from various departments; budget amendments and line-item transfers.

Commissioners opted to table any action on professional services contract between Reeves County and Carothers Construction and professional services contract between Reeves County and Frank X. Spencer and Associates for RCDC III Project and water line easement on county road 404.

Meeting to discuss Concert Association planned

PECOS, Tuesday, June 26, 2001 -- A meeting will be held at 7 p.m. tonight at the First United Methodist Church to discuss starting a Community Concert Association for Pecos.

Mary Lyon Camper, Senior Managing Director of Community Concert Association of Trawick, along with the Field Representative for this area, Sherry Lawfon, will be in Pecosat the First United Methodist Church, corner of Third and Elm streets, to talk about a local Community Concert Association.

Anyone who is interested in a performing arts series for the community are welcome at this first meeting. For more information, call Bruce Abbott at 445-5471 or 447-9225.


PECOS, Tuesday, June 26, 2001 -- High Monday 98. Low this morning 70. Forecast for  tonight: Mostly clear. Low around 70. Southeast wind 5 to 15  mph. Wednesday: Partly cloudy. High in the upper 90s. South wind 10 to  20 mph. Wednesday night: Partly cloudy. Low around 70.  Thursday and Friday: Partly cloudy with a slight chance of afternoon  and evening thunderstorms each day. Lows in the upper 60s to lower  70s. Highs in the mid 90s to near 100.

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