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Steps in shooting of 18-year-old near Rio Grande retraced
Houston Chronicle July 1, 1997

Copyright 1997 Houston Chronicle

REDFORD -- State investigators endured 105-degree heat along the Rio Grande on Monday to retrace the movements of a military anti- drug unit and the Presidio High School student killed by a patrolling Marine five weeks ago.

The sizzling weather was mild compared to the heat being put on the civilian law enforcement agents to produce criminal charges against the four U.S. Marines involved in the shooting death of Ezequiel Hernandez.

"We're expecting murder indictments," said resident Enrique Madrid, who said there was no way Hernandez intentionally would have assaulted the Marines.

The fatal shot fired by Marine Cpl. Clemente Banuelos was described by the military as an act of self-defense. Military investigators cited the soldiers' statements that Hernandez, who was tending goats a few hundred yards from his home, had fired at them twice with a .22-caliber rifle and was about to fire a third time when he was shot.

District Attorney Albert Valadez said it is still too early to say what charges, if any, a Presidio County grand jury will be asked to consider later this month in Marfa. A key piece of evidence -- the bullet that killed Hernandez -- is still undergoing ballistics tests in San Antonio and some subpoenaed military documents have not been received, Valadez said, describing the military's cooperation pace as "slow."

"We don't have enough information to go before a grand jury. Until we get it, we're not going to go," the prosecutor said as he looked over the parched riverside hills where the shooting took place about 6 p.m. on May 20.

The prosecutor, based in Fort Stockton, and Texas Rangers from Midland joined in the hourlong survey of the brushy shooting scene. The group viewed a low-lying area near the muddy river where Hernandez may have fired his rifle, prompting the Marines to track Hernandez as he walked a quarter-mile uphill toward an abandoned house.

The group then viewed the exposed rise where the Marines said they hit the dirt believing Hernandez was aiming at them from the hilltop. The investigators also saw where Hernandez was found dying from a single gunshot wound. Police tape that marked the scene, which is strewn with years of illegal dumping, has been torn and moved by the scorching winds.

Autopsy results indicate Hernandez was felled by a bullet that hit his right side, causing some officials and residents to dispute the soldiers' self-defense contention. Hernandez would have been hit in the chest if he were positioned as the soldier described him, the local coroner said last week.

But Valadez said he won't decide what recommendation to make to the grand jury until he has seen more evidence.

"We've done as much as we can on our own," he said. "Now we're waiting for the other people who are cooperating -- or who we've asked to cooperate -- to fulfill their end of the investigation."

Valadez said the soldiers from Camp Pendleton, Calif., who were camouflaged and carrying M-16s during their foray, were cooperative when interviewed by Texas Rangers on the day of the shooting.

"I'm satisfied that the information they obtained (from the Marines) that day was correct. Whether other people have contradicted them is a matter of opinion," Valadez said.

Madrid, the Redford resident, said most of the 100 townsfolk are convinced the killing was not justifiable. He said the incident adds to long-simmering resentment about the border interdiction efforts of the military's Joint Task Force-6, based at El Paso's Fort Bliss.

"If those Marines had used common sense and come out of the bushes and asked anybody in town who this kid was, we would have told them, `No, he's not a drug dealer. He's an 18-year-old kid. Leave him alone,' " Madrid said. "Instead of using common sense, they killed an innocent man."

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

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