March 5, 1998
Questions linger in border shooting case
By GREG HARMAN
PECOS, March 5, 1998 - Although the U.S. Department of
Justice recently dropped criminal charges and closed a
federal civil rights investigation into the fatal shooting
of 18-year-old Esequiel Hernandez Jr., not everyone is
satisfied with the findings.
U.S. Marine Cpl. Clemente Banuelos shot the Redford, Tx.
high school sophomore May 20,1997, while the marine was on a
federal drug interdiction operation and Hernandez was
tending his family's goat herd.
According to officials at the justice department, there was
"insufficient evidence" to prosecute Banuelos under federal
criminal civil rights law. The federal investigation
followed a grand jury trial held last August in Marfa in
which the jurors decided not to bring criminal charges
against Banuelos in the affair.
In a public statement released Feb. 27, justice department
officials said that "the department concluded that there was
insufficient evidence to rebut Corporal Banuelos' claim that
he shot Mr. Hernandez because he thought that Mr. Hernandez
was about to shoot another Marine."
Military officials said that Hernandez fired twice at the
Marines with an ancient .22-caliber rifle and was poised for
a third shot when Banuelos shot and killed the goat-herd.
However, civil charges which seek compensation for the
Hernandez family out of the tragedy are still pending and
U.S. Congressman Lamar Smith has initiated a new inquiry
into the matter. Many questions, apparently, have been left
unanswered despite the justice department's shut-down of the
Smith, who represents District 21 and is chairman of the
House Immigration Subcommittee, said in a public statement
Feb. 26 that the Hernandez shooting was "a death that did
not have to happen and raises serious questions about
training and supervision by the Border Patrol."
Smith first began criticizing the justice department's
handling of the case in August 1997 when he sent a five-page
letter to Attorney General Janet Reno complaining of the
lack of cooperation from her department.
Information that had been requested early in the
investigation was never provided, said Smith's spokesman
Allen Kay. Smith, who conducted a series of interviews after
the shooting, meeting with representatives of the U.S.
Border Patrol, military and the Attorney General herself,
has come to believe that the U.S. Border Patrol did not
provide adequate training and preparation for members of the
U.S. Marine Corp, said Kay.
Information that has been re-requested from the justice
department by Smith's office includes: Why were the Marines
not provided with information about an earlier shooting
involving Hernandez, who in February fired on military
personnel he believed were out to hurt his sheep? Why did it
take the U.S. Border Patrol 38 minutes to respond to a call
from the marines when their own response time is a required
15 minutes? And why did it take 22 minutes for the marines
to call for medical assistance after Hernandez was shot?
"The Congressman's point is that the Hernandez family has a
right to know how Esequiel was shot and killed," said Kay,
"the people of Redford have a right to know and the people
of Texas have a right to know."
Even though U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Carole
Florman told a reporter with the Houston Chronicle in August
1997 that department officials would "read Congressman
Smith's letter and work with him to provide the best
information we can," Kay said that the requested information
is yet to be delivered.
The spokesman complained that after "nine-months and a
series of investigations" the tragic events that led to the
death of Hernandez are still not known by the family or the
"What we're talking about here is the death of an American
citizen," said Kay. "There has already been too much delay."
Kay said that when Congressman Smith feels he has the
information he needs then he will move forward with a new
set of hearings.
Meanwhile in Pecos, attorney Bill Weinacht, who represents
the Hernandez family, said he had serious problems with the
official version of the event -stressing that the matter is
still under investigation.
"Isn't it strange that they need all sorts of scoping
meetings to inform the public when they are going to be
flying low-altitude training flights here, but to station
four marines in camouflage outside your house they don't
need to do anything?" asked the agitated Weinacht.
Weinacht continued to say that the U.S. Marines, the U.S.
Border Patrol and the federal government were all "one."
Implying that it should have come as no surprise when the
U.S. Department of Justice found no "criminal conduct" on
the part of the marines.
"The Attorney General has an inherent conflict of interest,"
"I recently spoke to the prosecutor, Barry Kawolski, and he
agreed that Esequiel Hernandez Jr. was a good boy. That is
what we don't understand. How, in America, can a good boy be
shot down a few hundred yards from his house by Marines in
full camouflage carrying M-16s, who say they are acting
under the "rules of engagement" in what they refer to as a
Presidio District Attorney Albert Valadez, who conducted the
state grand jury proceedings which concluded last summer,
said that he understood the U.S. Attorney's office had filed
for a release of the federal grand jury minutes at the
federal courthouse in Pecos.
"If the court authorizes the release of that information I
will review it," said Valadez. If new evidence is found
there which necessitates a new investigation, he said, one
would be reopened. Whether or not any of the soldiers would
be court marshaled over the event he refused to speculate
on, but said only that a military investigation into the
matter is ongoing.
Optimistic on the outcome of a civil trial, attorney
Weinacht said, "We feel that when the facts come to light
everyone will see they are in our favor."
Texas Rangers who investigated the scene found that physical
evidence there, as well as the autopsy results, contradicted
the testimony of the four marines. Specifically, the angle
of the entry wound compared with the marine's testimony
regarding Hernandez' position at the time of the shooting
did not seem to match.
Texas Rangers Captain Barry Carver said that while the
information and attributions contained in these previous
news articles were factually correct, he had been asked by
Texas Department of Public Safety officials not to comment
any further on his findings associated with the case.
As to the future of investigations and a pending civil
trial, Carver said, "A long time ago I learned to never
second guess the juries. You never know what they are going
Lt. Col. Scott Campbell, spokesman for the U.S. Marine Corp
at U.S. Marine Corp Headquarters in Washington, D.C., said
that while a military investigation is ongoing he expected
it to be concluded "in the near future."
Mayor has heart surgery
PECOS, March 5, 1998 - Pecos Mayor Dot Stafford underwent
heart surgery yesterday morning at Medical Center Hospital
Pecos City Manager Kenneth Neal said that according to
Stafford's husband, Joe Stafford, she may be released from
the hospital as soon as tomorrow.
"Our prayers are with her," said Neal.
Stafford, who filed to seek the Mayoral seat for another
term on Feb. 27 is currently listed in "good" condition at
Medical Center Hospital in Odessa.
Early voting ends Friday
By ROSIE FLORES
PECOS, March 5, 1998 - Reeves County voters have until
tomorrow at 5 p.m. to cast early votes at the county court
house in the March Democratic Primary Elections. The
election is set for Tuesday, March 10, at various polling
As of Wednesday evening, 1,800 individuals had voted early.
Out of those, 1,470 voted by personal appearance with 331
"We've been averaging over 100 voters each day, which is
really great," said early voting clerk Debbie Thomas.
Thomas stated that 138 people voted by personal appearance
March 10 polling places will be box 1, located at the Pecos
Community Center, 505 South Willow; box 2 will be at the
Pecos Elementary School, 901 S. Willow; box 3, Pecos High
School Gym, 1300 Iowa Street; box 4, Toyah City Hall in
Toyah; box 5, Senior Citizen Hall in Balmorhea; box 6,
Saragosa Multi-Purpose Center in Saragosa; box 7, Reeves
County Library, 505 S. Park; box 8, Lamar Elementary School,
Room #1, corner of Oak and "F" streets; box 9, Orla Red
Bluff Office in Orla; box 10, Reeves County Annex/N. Side,
700 Daggett Street; box 11, Bessie Haynes Elementary School,
800 E. 11th Street and box 12, Texas-New Mexico Power Co.,
1126 Stafford Blvd.
Those voting in Precinct 1 will vote at boxes 2 & 11;
Precinct 2, will vote at boxes 3, 4, and 12; Precinct 3,
will cast their ballots at boxes, 5, 6 and 10 and Precinct
4, at boxes 1, 7, 8 and 9.
Candidates line up for May election
By ROSIE FLORES
PECOS, March 5, 1998 - Town of Pecos City Mayor Dot Stafford
has filed for re-election in the city elections scheduled
Stafford joins incumbents Ricky Herrera and Danny Rodriguez
in seeking another term on the council. Herrera and
Rodriguez are seeking at-large positions.
Elections will be held for seats on the Town of Pecos City
Council as well as for council seats in Balmorhea, Barstow
Pecos-Barstow-Toyah and Balmorhea school board filings also
started yesterday, as do those for the Reeves County
Hospital District board of directors.
In the Pecos-Barstow-ISD race, positions up for election
include three full-year terms currently held by Linda
Gholson, Earl Bates and Frank Perea.
Louis Matta has thrown his hat in the ring in his quest for
a position on the board.
The hospital board seats will be open for Districts 1 and 3,
along with the at-large seat for which all Reeves County
voters are eligible to cast ballots. These positins are
currently held by, respectively, Chel Flores, Jesus Prieto
and Greg Luna.
The last day to file to run in the May elections will be
March 18, at 5 p.m.
In Balmorhea, school positions up will be those currently
held by Paul Ward and Armando Mondragon. In the city
elections, positions available will be those of mayor, a
position held by Ismael Rodriguez and two council positions,
held by Rosendo Carrasco and Rosendo Galindo.
In Toyah, positions open are those of the mayor, a position
unoccupied at this time and council positions, held by
Howard Dennett and Linda Compton.
Supervisor and safety course conducted today
By GREG HARMAN
PECOS, March 5, 1998 - Texas Municipal League and the Safety
Department of Pecos City conducted a "Supervisors and
Safety" course from 8 a.m. to noon today at the Pecos
Community Center for 50 interested municipal employees.
Armando Gil, coordinator for the Safety Department of Pecos
City said that the training was for all public works
employees, police and fire employees and office staff
concerning safety procedures in the day-to-day operations of
A wide geographical range was represented by the attendants
of the four-hour course, including workers from Andrews,
Kermit, Monahans, Grand Falls, Wink and Pecos. There was
even one participant from as far away as Coahoma.
"Midland had a real good turn-out," said Gil.
According to Guss Campbell, Texas Municipal League (TML)
loss prevention representative, TML has approximately 1,600
members, including various cities, housing authorities and
municipal water districts.
TML representative, Arlin Jones, instructed today's safety
course. Topics covered in the class included accident
investigation, hazard reporting, loss reporting, vicarious
liability and responsibility.
Justice handed out swiftly in federal court
By PEGGY McCRACKEN
PECOS, March 5, 1998 - Federal court jurors this week took a
clue from Senior Judge Lucius Bunton and wasted no time
finding three defendants guilty of smuggling drugs.
Wednesday's 33-minute deliberation before finding Arturo
Saenz, 26, of 911 E. Fourth St., guilty of possession with
intent to distribute 593 pounds of marijuana was the longest
of the week.
In the first trial Tuesday morning, the jury spent only
seven minutes deciding Marcelina Gonzales de Orona, 53, of
Midland, was guilty of inporting and possessing 43.2 pounds
of marijuana for distribution on Dec. 11, 1997.
Then after lunch another jury heard Aida Dominguez, 30, of
Hobbs, N.M. admit she lied time after time following her
arrest at the Presidio Port of Entry on Dec. 19, 1997. They
deliberated 25 minutes, finding her guilty of importing and
possessing with intent to distribute 153.8 pounds of
Customs officers testified they found the marijuana inside
the gas tank of Dominguez's 1988 Chevrolet pickup. The
container left room for only 6-8 gallons of gasoline, said
Customs agent Frank Noble, who questioned Dominguez closely
about her claim she drove the 300 miles from Hobbs to
Ojinaga, Mex., without stopping for gasoline.
Judge Bunton took even less time Wednesday finding a Dallas
man guilty of marijuana smuggling and acquitting his wife.
Obed Verastegui, 30, and Sofia Verastegui, 35, were arrested
Nov. 12, 1997 when they entered the Presidio Port of Entry
with marijuana in their vehicle.
Sofia denied knowledge of the contraband, and her husband
backed her up. In a letter read to the court by interpreter
Celia Nazaroff, Verastegui apologized to his wife for not
telling her he planned to smuggle marijuana from Mexico when
they went to Ojinaga to visit his brother.
Crockett Middle School history students who watched part of
the trial giggled when Nazaroff read Verastegui's comment
that he loves his son and wants more children. "When I get
out of jail, we will have to make love all day and all
night," he said.
Judge Bunton set sentencing for April 27 on each of the
cases, including Eddie Quezada Ocon, aka Eddie Saenz, who
pleaded guilty Monday to possession with intent to
Ocon was driving the van in which his brother, Arturo Saenz,
was a passenger when it was stopped by U.S. Border Patrol
agents south of Alpine Dec. 19, 1997.
Defense Attorney Monty Kimball admitted that Saenz knew
marijuana was in the van because the odor was so strong. But
he claimed Saenz was merely hitching a ride home after his
Cadillac broke down between Alpine and Study Butte and had
no control over the marijuana.
Ocon, who is a Mexican citizen, was in the country illegally
at the time of his arrest. His attorney, public defender
Kurt Mayer, said he had previously been deported, although
he gave his address as 911 E. Fourth St.
The Saenz verdict concluded Judge Bunton's docket for the
week, which listed 35 felony criminal cases.
Unemployment rates continue decrease
By GREG HARMAN
PECOS, March 5, 1998 - The Civilian Labor force in Reeves
County decreased between January 1997 and January 1998,
according to Texas Workforce Commission figures, but so has
the unemployment rate. January 1997 found Reeves County's
labor force hovering just under 6,500, at 6,460, at an
unemployment rate of 11.1 percent. January this year shows a
decline in the total labor force, 6,163, but with 5,597
employed county-wide and a 9.2 percent unemployment rate.
In the Town of Pecos City unemployment has declined, in the
year-long stretch between January 1997 and January 1998.
Despite the declining labor force (from 4,929 in 1997 to
4,825 this year) the unemployment rate in Pecos went from
13.2 percent to 10.5 percent, or from 651 unemployed persons
in January 1997 to 507 in January 1998.
Meanwhile, Ector, Midland and Ward counties have all seen
declines in their unemployment rates, with only Ward
County's total labor force declining.
In Ector County, the labor force has increased from 60,502
in January 1997 to 62,130 in January of this year, with the
unemployment rate dropping from 7.1 to 5.5 percent in the
same period. The city of Odessa saw its unemployment rate
drop from 7.1 to 5.4 percent.
In Midland County, the labor force increased from 59,981 in
the first part of 1997 to 62,219 in January 1998, with the
unemployment rate declining from 4.4 to 3.5 percent. Midland
City also saw its unemployment decrease from 4.4 to 3.5
Ward County, where the civilian labor force decreased from
4,516 to 4,485, also witnessed a decrease in unemployment
figures: from 6.9 to 6.1 percent. Monahans saw its
unemployment level decrease by a little over a percentage
point, from 7.4 to 6.3 percent.
Between December of 1997 and January of 1998, in the state
as a whole, Texas witnessed a near one point jump in the
unemployment rate, from 4.5 to 5.4 percent. But, compared to
the January 1997 figure, 5.4 is a drop from the year-ago 6.1
The lowest unemployment rates in the state may be found in:
Bryan/College Station at 2 percent; Austin/San Marcos at 3
percent; San Angelo at 3.3 percent; Dallas at 3.6 percent
Fort Worth/Arlington at 3.6 percent; Lubbock at 3.7 percent;
and Abilene at 3.8 percent. Odessa/Midland ranks as the
eleventh lowest unemployment area at a combined 4.5 percent.
PECOS, March 5, 1998 - High Wednesday, 82, low this morning,
51. A stationary front cut through southeast Oklahoma into
the Wichita Falls area into a surface low in the South
Plains, then curved northwest into eastern New Mexico. The
dry line extended south out of the surface low into the
eastern sections of the Big Bend. Much cooler air was poised
over the Panhandle, but struggled to move to the south
because of weak upper air support. Temperatures were mild
across the state overnight, ranging from 72 at Brownsville
and McAllen in the Rio Grande Valley to 27 at Dalhart in the
northwest corner of the Panhandle.
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