Immigrant Smuggler Convicted, Could Be Executed

It took two years and two trials, but a federal jury here in Houston has convicted truck driver Tyrone Williams for his part in the nation's deadliest smuggling run. As Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports, jurors must now decide if Williams should be executed for the deaths of 19 illegal immigrants.

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After deliberating for parts of five days, the jury of seven woman and five men agreed Williams was guilty on all of the smuggling counts he faced, including 20 that carry the possibility of the death penalty. Williams drove the truck that carried about a hundred illegal immigrants on a smuggling run from Harlingen to Houston in May of 2003. Federal prosecutors were able to convince jurors that Williams knew the immigrants were in trouble because of the heat inside his truck trailer and failed to stop and help them. Williams' attorney Craig Washington says he'll call about 20 witnesses when the penalty phase of the trial starts on Wednesday.

"The jury has to decide whether to take another human beings life, so everything is on the table when they do that. Everything about a human-being that the jury wants to know to decide whether the person lives or dies is important so nothing is any less important or more important, I don't think, than anything else. That's the most important decision you can ever make about another human being."

Williams was remarkably calm as U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal read the verdict, despite the fact that he could be sentenced to death under a 1994 federal law that allows the death penalty if a person dies during a human smuggling attempt.

"I think it was one of the deputy marshals that told me recently that given a person in his position, they've never seen anyone that calm. The people over at the FDC, I'm told, when he comes down to go and visit, that the other inmates pray for him and the other inmates say how can you be this calm when I'm only looking at ten years."

The actual masterminds behind the plan were sentenced to prison terms without the possibility of the death penalty. Joe Vail is the director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Houston Law Center and says the guilty verdict won't change much because human smuggling has become much more lucrative.

"It's now much tougher to get across that border and people have to pay a much higher sum to get across that border. The people involved with the smugglers are some of the lowest of the low in terms of their charactors and how they treat their fellow human-beings. So I don't think this is going to dissuade a lot of them. I think they're going to take this and do this again and I think it's going to be very difficult to stop them from continuing to do it."

A judge in 2005 declared a mistrial when jurors couldn't decide on a verdict for all the counts included in Williams' first trial.

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