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Houston Chronicle June 24, 1997

Teen shot by Marine at border bled to death, autopsy finds

SAN ANTONIO -- An autopsy on a high school sophomore shot to death by a Marine anti-drug squad on the Texas-Mexico border shows the youth bled to death after a bullet pierced his side, fragmented, then tore through his aorta, stomach and other organs.

The report also shows that the bullet that struck 18-year-old Ezequiel Hernandez Jr. entered on the right side of his chest, then traveled toward the left side of his body on two divergent paths.

Prosecutors have said the wound indicates the right-handed teen- ager, who fired two shots with a .22-caliber rifle before he was killed, was not aiming at the Marines when he was hit.

District Attorney Albert Valadez of Fort Stockton intends to present evidence next month to a grand jury, which will decide whether to charge the soldier suspected in the shooting, Cpl. Clemente Banuelos, and his three fellow Marines.

The autopsy failed to find any substances in Hernandez's blood, except maybe "a trace of coffee," said Daniel Bodine, justice of the peace in Presidio. "Everything came out clean."

Authorities have not suspected Hernandez of any drug-related activity.

Bodine received the report Monday. The Texas Rangers, who are investigating the shooting, said they have not yet received it.

Hernandez, a Presidio High School student, was killed May 20 while herding his goats within shouting distance of his family's home in Redford, a farming community near Big Bend National Park.

The autopsy did not reveal how long the youth lived after he was shot. Investigators say the Marines did not perform first aid and waited 22 minutes before contacting medical help.

Military officials say the four heavily camouflaged soldiers, dispatched to the remote area on a surveillance mission, had no choice but to shoot Hernandez.

But investigators have raised questions about the series of events, saying the evidence does not match the Marines' story. Although they claim they acted in self-defense, the Marines followed Hernandez, from a distance, for more than 20 minutes after he fired his rifle, investigators said.

Though they agree that Hernandez did fire twice, they are awaiting the results of tests to determine whether there was gunpowder residue on the teen-ager's body, which would help verify that he fired his gun the day he was killed.

They are also checking for metal impressions that would have been left on his body if he had been holding and firing his weapon.

This article copyright 1997 the Houston Chronicle and is reproduced for non-profit educational purposes only.

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