March 30, 2001

Trial begins in case of rancher accused in fatal shooting of immigrant

The Associated Press

HOUSTON, March 26, 2001 — The trial of a Texas border rancher accused in the death of a Mexican national was scheduled to begin Monday and expected to be closely monitored by the United Nations, the Mexican government and immigration rights advocates.

Samuel Blackwood, a 75-year-old retiree from Arkansas, is charged with deadly conduct in the fatal shooting of Eusebio de Haro, 23, after the rancher confronted him and a companion on May 13, prosecutors said.

Blackwood's attorneys claim their client, who acknowledged the shooting, acted in self-defense and was simply trying to apprehend the two men.

Jury selection was set to begin Monday in Brackettville, which is located an isolated region of land 30 miles east of Del Rio in sparsely populated Kinney County. More than 120 potential jurors have been summoned for the case.

Blackwood was initially charged with murder but later indicted on a downgraded charge of deadly conduct - a third-degree felony.

Blackwood could face up to 10 years in prison if he is found guilty. Also pending is a $15 million wrongful-death lawsuit filed against the Blackwood and his wife by de Haro's parents.

Investigators say de Haro, who had worked in Texas and Arkansas, was attempting to return to Mexico after having been deported.

De Haro and his companion, 25-year-old Javier Sanchez, stopped at Blackwood's isolated homestead 45 miles north of the border seeking a drink of water. They left after the rancher and his wife ordered them away and called the U.S. Border Patrol.

Authorities say Blackwood then got his pistol and, with his wife, followed the pair in his truck off of his property. When they spotted them, they got out and ordered them to wait for the Border Patrol.

When the two men saw the gun, they attempted to flee, but de Haro was shot in the back of his leg.

He bled to death in a clump of cactus, awaiting medical attention; Sanchez escaped and turned himself into authorities the following day.

Blackwood's wife, Brenda, was not charged.

His attorney, Mark Stevens of San Antonio, could not be reached for comment. He said earlier that his client is innocent.

"He's not guilty of a crime, and he committed no civil wrongdoing," Stevens said. "He should not be held liable for any action."

The case is set against a backdrop of violence against illegal immigrants by South Texas residents.

Six immigrants have been shot, two fatally, by residents living in the arid patch of South Texas range from Del Rio to Eagle Pass.

Several months ago, a North Texas volunteer group, Ranch Rescue, announced a plan to conduct armed patrols near the Mexican border this spring. Group leader Jack Foote said members plan to help protect property in Kinney County from what South Texas ranchers call immigrant trespassing.

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