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Border Agent Acquitted Of Involuntary Manslaughter In Mexican Teen's Death

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A jury has acquitted a Border Patrol officer in a cross-border killing. It happened in 2012 on the U.S.-Mexico border. There's a town called Nogales, Ariz., which is right across from a town called Nogales in Mexico. A rust-colored fence made of vertical bars separates the towns. And six years ago, an agent on the U.S. side placed his gun between two bars and fired 16 times, killing a teenager on the other side. The agent was found not guilty last April and again on different charges Wednesday. Michel Marizco reports from the Fronteras Desk at KJZZ.

MICHEL MARIZCO, BYLINE: Nobody has ever disputed that Border Patrol Agent Lonnie Swartz killed 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez. Federal prosecutors said the killing was unnecessary. Swartz's legal team argued he was defending himself. On Wednesday, it prevailed as a jury found Swartz not guilty, this time of involuntary manslaughter. Swartz hung his head at the defense table and sobbed in relief, his shoulders shaking. The dead teen's grandmother also sobbed as she left the courtroom. Border Patrol Union Vice President Art Del Cueto.

ART DEL CUETO: Relief, relief, finally relief. I think justice was served. God bless each and every one of those jurors.

MARIZCO: His attorney argued Swartz is a member of a paramilitary organization, the Border Patrol, and was following that agency's training when he responded to the rock attack. He accused a dead teen of helping drug smugglers to escape - a charge that prosecutors never denied. They argued Swartz was fed up with having rocks thrown over the border at him and calmly and deliberately - their chosen words during the trial - walked up to the border fence and opened fire. Speaking through a friend, Araceli Rodriguez, the teenager's mother, disputed that her son was involved with drug traffickers.

ARACELI RODRIGUEZ: (Through interpreter) We are so upset they muddled the name of Jose Antonio, they destroy him, the name of the family.

MARIZCO: Taide Elena, the teen's grandmother, spoke briefly after the verdict.

TAIDE ELENA: (Speaking Spanish).

MARIZCO: "We say may God forgive him," she said.

ELENA: (Speaking Spanish).

MARIZCO: "Because we will never forgive him." For NPR News, I'm Michel Marizco in Tucson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.