Four suspects on the loose; investigators ask public's help finding them
PHOENIX -- The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California Laura Duffy on Monday announced the unsealing of an 11-count indictment charging six people in connection with the murder of border agent Brian Terry.
"According to the indictment, Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga, Ivan Soto-Barraza, Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes and Lionel Portillo-Meza are charged with crimes including first degree murder, second degree murder, conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery, attempted interference with commerce by robbery, use and carrying a firearm during a crime of violence, assault on a federal officer and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person," according to the Department of Justice. "A sixth defendant, Rito Osorio-Arellanes, is charged only with conspiracy to interfere with commerce by robbery."
While two of the defendants --Manuel Osorio-Arellanes and Rito Osorio-Arellanes -- are in custody here in Arizona, the remaining four suspects are still on the loose. The FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of California are turning to the public -- both in the U.S. and Mexico -- for help finding those men. At this point, investigators believe the four are in Mexico.
According to Duffy, the defendants are "border bandits," a team that robs individuals and groups as they smuggle drugs across the border into the U.S.
Duffy ran down some factual details about what happened the night Terry was murdered before releasing the details of the newly unsealed indictment, which a grand jury handed down in November, just two months after the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of California took over the investigation and prosecution of the case.
Duffy said five of the defendants, including Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, who was wounded in the shootout and has been in custody since that night, were actually engaged in the gun battle in which Terry died.
"Brian Terry was truly an agent's agent," Duffy said, promising Terry's family "the very best" her office had to offer.
"We will not rest until these individuals are bought to justice," she said.
FBI Special Agent in Charge James L. Turgal, who heads up the Phoenix field office, said there is a reward of up to $250,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction each of the four suspects still at large. That's a total of $1 million on the table.
Turgal said the FBI has been "actively searching" for the remaining suspects in concert with the FBI's Mexican counterparts, but declined to elaborate.
"We are here to bring justice to Brian Terry and his family regardless of what else is going on in the world," Turgal said.
“Today’s developments certainly mean that the criminal prosecution of Brian Terry’s killers is moving forward,” said Patrick McGroder, the attorney representing the Terry family.
While investigators declined to comment on the Fast and Furious operation that put the guns in the hands of Terry's killers, McGroder reiterated the family's hope of progress on that front, as well as in the international search for the four fugitives.
"Agent Terry died as a hero protecting this country; he and his family rightly deserve a full and thorough explanation of how Operation Fast and Furious came to be," he said.
Members of the Terry family praised the investigators' decision to unseal the indictment and enlist the public in the search for Terry's murders.
“The Terry family would like to thank U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy and her team of prosecutors along with the special agents of the FBI’s Tucson Office and the Mexico City Legal Attaché who have continued to pursue leads in the murder case that ultimately led to the additional indictments of the four fugitive defendants," said Terry's cousin, Robert Heyer, in a statement released shortly after the unsealing of the indictment. "The Terry family would also like to thank the government of Mexico for their assistance in the investigation. It is the family’s hope that the unsealing of details in the case, the identification of the four fugitives and the issuance of reward monies will lead to the eventual capture of all individuals responsible for the murder of Agent Terry.”
Anyone with information about the fugitives named in the indictment made public Monday should call the FBI's Phoenix field office at 623-466-1999. You also can contact your local FBI field office or the nearest American Embassy or Consulate.
Usually handed up by a grand jury, an indictment is a method of charging an individual with a crime. Based on information from a prosecutor, a grand jury decides if there is probable cause to charge a person with a specific criminal act.
A grand jury decided there was indeed probable cause to charge Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga, Ivan Soto-Barraza, Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes and Lionel Portillo-Meza in connection with Terry's death. Although that indictment was handed up in November, it has remained sealed until now to allow investigators time to search for the fugitives.
In addition to steering clear of Fast and Furious and recent developments connected to it, investigators also refused to talk about which cartel claims the border bandits they believe to be responsible for Terry's murder, saying only that they were concentrating specifically on the incident in which Terry was killed.
From left to right, Jesus Rosario Favela-Astorga, Ivan Soto-Barraza, Heraclio Osorio-Arellanes, and Lionel Portillo-Meza (photo unavailable) are wanted in connection with the December 2010 murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
The murder of Brian Terry
Terry's December 2010 death in a shootout with drug smugglers near the U.S.-Mexican border in Southern Arizona has been a major element in the Fast and Furious investigation.
Two of the guns linked to Terry's murder were traced back to the failed ATF "gun-walking" program that was supposed to lead investigators to high-level arms dealers who had eluded prosecution. Instead, those weapons landed in the hands of violent criminals.
Terry's family filed a $25 million wrongful death lawsuit against the federal government earlier this year.
"I don't know if there is ever an amount or enough of an amount of money to compensate people for the enormity of the loss of a loved one," McGroder told 3TV in an exclusive interview last month.
"They're not doing well," McGroder said of his clients. "They've lost their son and they don't have a reasonable explanation as to why he died the way he did. … The idea that he was killed by the very guns that 10 months before were sitting in a Phoenix gun shop is repulsive."
Shortly after Terry's death, the U.S. Border Patrol announced that four people had been arrested. One month later, the U.S. Marshals Service in Tucson said two more had been arrested.
At the time, the six suspects were being held on felony immigration charges and had not been charged in Terry's death.
Charges were later dropped against three of the suspects after the U.S. Attorney's Office said there was no evidence connecting them to the crime. Those three men were eventually deported to Mexico.
Three members of the ring accused of buying the rifles -- AK-47 assault rifle variants -- found at the scene of Terry's death pleaded guilty to felony weapons charges earlier this year.
Off the more than 2,000 weapons believed to have been purchased as part of Fast and Furious, about 1,400 are still missing.
Terry's family has established the Brian Terry Foundation to honor his memory and create a living legacy in his name. The foundation's threefold mission to raise money for the families of slain border agents, raise awareness about Fast and Furious so that any mistakes are not repeated, and establish educational scholarships.