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Slain U.S. border agent could not feel legs before dying: prosecutors

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - A slain federal agent's last moments alive after a face-off with bandits in a dry, desert creek in southern Arizona have come to light as federal prosecutors prepare to sentence one of the Mexican nationals at the scene.

Border Patrol agent Brian Terry died in a shoot-out with drug cartel gunmen in December 2010 in a case tied to a flawed bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives gun-running operation known as "Fast and Furious" that embarrassed the Obama administration and strained relations with Mexico.

Documents filed by prosecutors in U.S. District Court on Monday paint the clearest picture yet of Terry's final moments and his death's links to "Fast and Furious," which allowed some 2,000 weapons to slip into Mexico from the United States.

"I'm hit!" Terry yelled after being struck, according to a declaration filed by fellow Border Patrol agent William Castano.

Castano said in the declaration that Terry did not know where he had been struck but said: "I can't feel my legs. I'm paralyzed!"

"Agent Terry soon lost consciousness and died at the scene," Castano said in the declaration, adding that he rushed to render first aid but to no avail.

The bungled operation, triggered by gun purchases made in the Phoenix area, was envisioned as a way to track weapons from the buyers to senior drug cartel members.

Federal agents who ran the operation focused on building cases against the leaders of a trafficking ring, and did not pursue low-level buyers of those firearms.

Two of those guns were discovered at Terry's murder scene, but it was not clear if the fatal bullets came from the weapons. The court documents offer no answer.

RIP CREWS

Prosecutors revealed a glimpse into what happened that night north of Nogales, Arizona, some 11 miles north of the U.S.-Mexican border, as part of the case against Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in October 2012 in exchange for prosecutors not seeking the death penalty.

Osorio-Arellanes is scheduled to be sentenced on Monday. Prosecutors are asking that he receive 30 years in prison. His attorney could not be reached for comment.

Four other men have been charged in the slain border agent's death. Two have been arrested and await extradition, two others remain at large.

In court papers, prosecutors said that Terry and three other agents were stationed atop a small hill above a dry creek, in an area well-known for so-called "rip crews" who steal drug loads and rob illegal entrants. A ground sensor was tripped.

Soon the agents could see multiple people coming at them, some toting weapons in the "ready" position, documents showed. The two sides exchanged fire as the border bandits passed through the area and agents announced their presence.

"A single bullet fired by the co-defendants struck Agent Terry," prosecutors wrote.

Osorio-Arellanes was struck in the torso, while the others fled back to Mexico. An assault rifle was found next to Osorio-Arellanes, who has consistently denied firing any shots.

He said another member of the group fired the fatal shots.

The encounter came less than an hour before the agents were to be relieved for the night, said Castano, in documents filed along with the other two agents at the scene.

(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Lisa Shumaker)

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