By Jeorge Zarazua
The Houston Chronicle
DEL RIO, Texas — A federal judge sentenced Edwards County Sheriff's Deputy Guillermo F. Hernandez to prison instead of probation Monday, crushing the hopes of his family and more than 100 supporters from his hometown waiting outside the courthouse to welcome him home.
Visiting U.S. District Judge Robert T. Dawson sentenced Hernandez, known as Gilmer, to a year and a day in prison for shooting at a fleeing vehicle that was transporting undocumented immigrants through his hometown of Rocksprings nearly two years ago.
Hernandez's case gained nationwide attention after a jury convicted him Dec. 1 of violating the civil rights of one of the passengers, who suffered minor facial injuries in the shooting.
"He was just doing his job," said his wife, Ashley, who broke down in tears following the judge's order. "Gilmer had faith in the law and they still do this."
Supporters waited two hours outside the federal courthouse here to learn Hernandez's fate. They had traveled 80 miles from Rocksprings, population 1,250, carrying signs saying, "Please Let Gilmer Come Home," "Protect Our Lawmen," and "Free Gilmer." The 25-year-old former deputy has been held without bail.
Defense attorney Jimmy Parks Jr. said although Dawson denied pleas for probation, the judge did deviate from federal sentencing guidelines that made the former deputy eligible for up to nine years in prison.
Parks said he plans to appeal, arguing Hernandez is innocent because he didn't intend to hurt anyone when he shot at the fleeing Chevrolet Suburban.
"We're disappointed that the court did not impose probation," said Paul Kamenar, senior executive counsel for the Washington Legal Foundation, which filed a brief late last week in support of Hernandez. "But we're glad that the court rejected the government's draconian recommendation that he serve approximately six years in prison."
Kamenar said the sentence is just another "bad message" federal prosecutors are sending to the local law enforcement community in South Texas.
He said many are still upset with U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton's office for prosecuting U.S. Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean for shooting a drug-smuggling suspect in the buttocks as he attempted to escape.
Copyright 2007 The Houston Chronicle Publishing Company
All Rights Reserved
Texas deputy who shot at fleeing illegal immigrants gets prison