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Associated Press August 13, 1997

3 Marines get immunity in border shooting case

CONROE [TX] (AP) -- Three of four U.S. Marines involved in the May shooting death of a West Texas teen-ager have been offered immunity in return for their testimony, an attorney for one of the servicemen and a prosecutor said.

Conroe attorney Gerald Crow, appointed by the Justice Department to represent Lance Corp. James M. Blood, told the Conroe Courier on Tuesday that Blood will appear before a Presidio County grand jury in Marfa on Thursday.

Crow said Blood and two other Marines have been offered immunity from prosecution in the shooting death of Esequiel Hernandez Jr. not far from his home in Redford.

Presidio County District Attorney Albert Valadez confirmed the immunity agreement on Tuesday, the newspaper said.

"You grant immunity to those that you want to have testify about facts that might result in a prosecution," Valadez said. "I can confirm the agreement, but I can't get into any details."

The grand jury is meeting for the second time Thursday to consider charges in the May 20 shooting death.

Hernandez was killed after crossing paths with a four-man Marine surveillance team while tending his goat herd in Redford, a Rio Grande community about 200 miles downstream from El Paso.

Military officials contend Hernandez fired twice at the camouflaged Marines with a .22-caliber rifle and was about to shoot again when Cpl. Clemente Banuelos fired with an M-16.

Prosecutors and law-enforcement officers, however, have said their findings don't match up with the military's version of events. An autopsy report indicated Hernandez was not facing Banuelos when he was shot.

"He (Valadez) just wants them to come in there and tell what happened, and in order to make sure that they'll do that, he's just gone ahead and given them immunity," Crow said.

"He has not given immunity to Banuelos," Crow said. "But I've never thought they were going to indict any of them. The most likely, of course, would be Banuelos, but I think the odds are against that."

Houston attorney Jack Zimmermann, who represents Banuelos, told The Associated Press on Tuesday night that the other Marines' testimony could only help his client.

"I have asked the district attorney from the very beginning to let these men testify," Zimmermann said. "They've told the truth from the very beginning."

The Hernandez shooting has provoked criticism about the growing militarization along the U.S.-Mexico border and also prompted the military to review its anti-drug operations and suspend missions similar to the one that resulted in Hernandez's death.

This article copyright 1997 Associated Press and is reproduced for non-profit educational purposes only.

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