By Brad Poole
TUCSON, Arizona (Reuters) - A Mexican citizen who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the 2010 shooting death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in a late-night gun battle near the Arizona border was sentenced on Monday to 30 years in federal prison.
Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, 37, was sentenced during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Tucson to 30 years in prison for the murder of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, with credit for 38 months served.
The case drew international attention when two AK-47s found at the scene were traced back to the botched "Fast and Furious" gun-trafficking investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
Terry's mother and two sisters spoke during the hearing, telling the court that his death at age 40 sent shockwaves through the tight-knit family.
"Manuel, you've taken a hero from us, but you can't take his honor," Terry's sister, Kelly Willis, told Osorio-Arellanes, glancing at the orange-jumpsuit clad defendant, whose feet were shackled and hands chained to his waist.
"You have already taken as much as I can bear," she said, calling Osorio-Arellanes a coward who chose the wrong path in life and vowed to erase him from her mind.
Osorio-Arellanes pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder in October 2012 as part of a plea deal with prosecutors that spared him a possible death sentence had he been convicted at trial.
In pleading guilty, he admitted that he had been in the United States illegally to rob smugglers when the gunfight erupted, but denied firing the shot that killed Terry, a member of the Border Patrol's elite BORSTAR unit.
"Nothing can bring back agent Terry, who gave his life protecting our country," U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said in a statement.
"Our hope is that, starting today with this significant sentence, justice will give some modicum of relief to grieving family members. We will continue our unrelenting pursuit of those responsible for the tragic attack against Agent Terry," she said.
A total of five Mexican men have been charged in connection with Terry's killing, although two remain at large.
The botched "Fast and Furious" sting operation ran from late 2009 to early 2011 out of the Phoenix offices of the ATF and the U.S. Attorney, and allowed weapons to slip across the border to Mexico.
The goal was to try to track guns bought by straw buyers with clean backgrounds to senior drug cartel members. However, in most cases ATF agents did not follow the guns beyond the initial buyer.
A number of guns bought in the scheme were recovered from crime scenes in Mexico. Two tracked by the ATF were also retrieved from a remote spot in southern Arizona where Terry was killed, although it was unclear if the weapons were used in his murder.
Terry's slaying set off a political fire storm when it brought to light the ATF sting in which about 2,000 weapons were sold to buyers believed to be straw purchasers for Mexico's powerful drug cartels.
(Writing and additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Ken Wills and Lisa Shumaker)
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