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Border & Immigration

Judge Sentences Immigrant Smugglers Who Let Pregnant Woman Die

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Two immigrant smugglers who left a pregnant woman to die in the rugged Otay Mountain wilderness during an ill-fated border crossing attempt were sentenced Wednesday to federal prison for actions that led to the victim's death.

U.S. District Judge Cathy Bencivengo sentenced Carlos Hernandez Palma, 35, to seven years in federal prison and Fernando Armenta Romero to a nearly five-year term.

Both defendants pleaded guilty in October to federal charges of illegally bringing a non-U.S. citizen into the country resulting in death and for financial gain.

According to court records, the victim's husband, Baltazar Razo Barreto, repeatedly pleaded with the smugglers to use their cellphone to call for help when his wife became gravely ill in the craggy, remote terrain, but they refused.

He was forced to leave his wife, Jaqueline Capistran Ochoa to seek help, and the smugglers eventually abandoned her.

"These smugglers showed a profound lack of humanity when they refused to call for help and left a dying woman alone in the middle of nowhere," U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said.

"This tragic case serves as a brutal reminder that attempting to cross into the United States illegally — and putting your faith, hope and future in the hands of mercenaries — is a very dangerous proposition and not worth the gamble," Duffy said.

On Dec. 29, 2013, the Border Patrol Search Trauma and Rescue unit responded to a report of a 32-year-old female Mexican national abandoned in the Otay Mountain wilderness near the U.S.-Mexico border in southeastern San Diego County.

The victim's husband told agents that his wife was in medical distress when he left her in the care of others while he sought help. After two days of searching, the husband eventually led agents to an area where they discovered her body.

According to the medical examiner's office, the victim's death was attributed to hyperglycemia and ketoacidosis due to diabetes and hypothermia from environmental exposure.

According to court documents, Razo and his wife made arrangements with the smugglers in Mexico to be brought illegally into the United States in December 2013. The smugglers told Razo that they would smuggle him and his wife into the United States for $12,000.

The smugglers told the couple that the trek would take up to two days but would not be particularly arduous as the terrain was mostly flat, but the hike turned out to be mountainous, covered with large boulders and difficult to traverse, court documents show.

Before the ill-fated trip, the smugglers argued between themselves whether Capistran was fit enough to make the journey and even tried to recruit others to replace her and her husband, prosecutors said.

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