By Marty Graham
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A federal jury on Tuesday found a Mexican drug trafficker guilty of second degree murder for killing a U.S. Border Patrol agent by deliberately swerving a truck at him in a dash back to Mexico to escape arrest.
According to the evidence presented at trial Jesus Navarro Montes, 25, struck U.S. Border Patrol agent Luis Aguilar with a Hummer H2 truck on January 19, 2008, in southern California, as he attempted to flee to Mexico.
Earlier that day, Border Patrol agents at the Imperial Sand Dunes close to the Mexico border in southern California spotted a pickup truck they suspected of smuggling narcotics, which was followed by the Hummer.
Aguilar and another agent set out a spike strip across an access road to stop the vehicles. But the Hummer swerved to avoid it, striking Aguilar before speeding south into Mexico. Aguilar died of his injuries at the scene.
Navarro was arrested in Mexico and extradited last year to the United States to stand trial.
After two hours of deliberation, the jury also found Navarro guilty on federal charges of conspiring to distribute marijuana.
"Our Office is gratified by the jury's verdict in this case and appreciates the service of each juror," Laura E. Duffy, the U.S. Attorney for the southern district of California, said in a statement.
The prosecution team's efforts "honored agent Aguilar and the devastating impact this senseless crime has had on his family and colleagues," she said.
Navarro's defense had argued during the two-week trial that there was no forensic evidence or eyewitness testimony placing him behind the wheel of the speeding sport utility vehicle that struck and killed Aguilar.
Navarro pleaded guilty last month to a charge dating from a previous drug smuggling attempt in September 2007, in which he was arrested by Border Patrol agents as he drove a pickup truck packed with 979 pounds of marijuana, accompanied by an unidentified woman passenger.
While under arrest in a Border Patrol vehicle, the woman passenger jumped into the driver's seat and drove them both back to Mexico.
In an unusual legal defense in his murder trial, Navarro claimed that the loss of a large load of marijuana, together with his arrest and escape from federal custody, had caused him to dropped by his Mexican drug smuggling ring. That is why, he argued, other members of the drug ring testified against him.
U.S. District Judge Michael M. Anello scheduled a sentencing hearing for June 27, at 9:00 a.m.
Navarro faces a maximum prison sentence of 40 years on the drugs charges and a maximum sentence of life in prison on the murder charge.
(Writing by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Peter Bohan)