Three convicted in nation’s deadliest smuggling attempt | VailDaily.com
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Three convicted in nation’s deadliest smuggling attempt

HOUSTON – Three more people were convicted Wednesday in the nation’s deadliest human smuggling attempt, a journey that ended in the deaths of 19 illegal immigrants who had been packed into a stifling tractor-trailer.The defendants, all U.S. citizens from South Texas, were convicted of conspiracy and harboring and transporting illegal immigrants. All could get up to 20 years in prison at sentencing May 1.Prosecutors said Victor Sanchez Rodriguez, 58, his wife, Emma Sapata Rodriguez, 59, and her half-sister, Rosa Sarrata Gonzalez, hid the immigrants in their home and moved them to other houses before they were loaded into an airtight tractor-trailer for transport from South Texas to Houston in 2003.”It’s time to send a message to these three that their days of making money on the pain, desperation of others has come to an end,” federal prosecutor Daniel Rodriguez told the jury.The trio could have faced life in prison if the jury had held the defendants responsible for the immigrants’ deaths, but jurors told the judge they did not feel that way.More than 70 illegal immigrants in all were packed into the tractor-trailer. As they traveled, they began to succumb to the rising heat inside the trailer. Seventeen were dead by the time the trailer was discovered, and two died later. They all died from dehydration, overheating and suffocation.Survivors testified that the immigrants took off their sweat-drenched clothes for relief and crowded around holes they punched in the truck so they could breathe. They also kicked out a signal light to try to get the attention of passing motorists.They were found after the driver abandoned the trailer at a truck stop in Victoria, about 100 miles southwest of Houston.Defense attorneys argued that their clients were bit players in a scheme orchestrated by other members of the smuggling ring. In all, 14 people were indicted in the case.Two, including a son of Sanchez and Sapata, were convicted of various smuggling charges. Charges against two were dismissed, five others pleaded guilty, and one man remains a fugitive.The truck’s driver, Tyrone Williams, was convicted in March of transporting illegal immigrants. Prosecutors want to retry him on other counts that could bring the death penalty.Vail, Colorado


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