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Attorneys for men accused in Border Patrol agent's murder want ATF gunwalk operation heard at trial

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Defense attorneys for two men accused of murder want to force the United States to explain to the jury how the guns used at the killing of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry got there.

Ivan Soto Barraza and Jesus Leonel Sanchez are two of seven men charged with Terry's 2010 murder. Others have taken plea deals with the U.S. government and not gone to trial. The U.S. last week, asked U.S. District Court Judge David Bury to exclude details of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives gunwalking scandal, Operation Fast and Furious from the trial. U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy wrote: “Informing the jurors in this case of the connection between the firearms and the "Fast and Furious" investigation will serve no legitimate purpose because that connection is irrelevant to the charges against the defendants.”

Soto's and Sanchez's attorneys responded, Monday.

"In a homicide prosecution the source of the weapon(s) used to perpetrate the alleged crime is and always should be relevant. In an assault prosecution the source of the weapon(s) is and always should be relevant," they wrote.

Two AK-47 rifles were found at the crime scene, following Terry's death. According to a U.S. government court filing, one rifle was found near Manuel Osorio Arellanes and the second was found in the wash. According to a 2013 FBI search warrant, Terry and the other BORTAC agents were at the top of the wash, the rip-off crew was below the agents. The FBI has never been able to determine whether one of the recovered rifles killed Terry.

Those guns were part of the ATF's Operation Fast and Furious. More than 1,400 rifles and handguns were lost after illegal gunbuyers purchased the weapons and secreted them throughout the Southwest and Mexico. Some of those guns were used in murders in Mexico, others were found at crime scenes in the U.S.

The defense attorneys argue that telling the jury where those guns came from is relevant because the FBI immediately arrested the main straw purchaser in the Fast and Furious operation, Jaime Avila, following Terry's death.

"Furthermore, the government seeks to label the defendants as armed aggressors thereby precluding them from the affirmative defense of self-defense," the attorneys wrote. "However, the same government that now wishes to preclude self-defense was complicit in arming the alleged 'aggressors'."

Soto and Sanchez's trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 22 in Tucson federal court.

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