Trucker gets 34 years for deaths of 19 immigrants

Monday, January 24, 2011

Washington, Jan 25 (IANS/EFE) The driver of the truck in which 19 undocumented immigrants died nearly eight years ago from heat stroke and dehydration on a South Texas highway was re-sentenced Monday to almost 34 years in prison.

Federal prosecutors initially sought the death penalty for Tyrone Williams, a 39-year-old Jamaican-born US legal resident, for his part in the May 2003 tragedy.

After five and a half days of deliberations, the jurors in the original trial in Houston decided against capital punishment in favour of sending the driver to prison for life without possibility of parole.

But last August, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to the district court for re-sentencing.

The appellate judges said Williams’ acts did not meet the criteria for the death penalty and that the driver’s sentence should have been determined by the judge rather than the jury.

US District Judge Lee Rosenthal Monday handed down a sentence of 405 months.

The Schenectady, N.Y., resident was found guilty on 58 counts for his involvement in the deaths of the 19 Mexicans and Central Americans, who were among a group of 74 migrants travelling in the unventilated trailer of a cargo truck.

Witnesses testified during the 2006 trial that the immigrants tried to escape from their locked confinement, shouting to Williams that they needed fresh air.

The defence argued that Williams did not heed the pounding and cries for help from inside the overheated, airless trailer because he did not understand Spanish.

Each of the migrants had paid between $1,500 and $1,900 to be smuggled into the US.

Williams abandoned the trailer at a Victoria truck stop 160 km southwest of Houston after he stopped to get a drink of water and heard the people screaming in back. He opened the doors and on finding bodies piled inside, he locked the trailer again and fled.

The trailer was later discovered and opened by police.

Seventeen of the victims, including a five-year-old boy, died from asphyxia, heat stroke and dehydration inside the truck, and two more died several hours after being rescued.

Thirteen other people were tried and convicted in the case, receiving prison terms ranging from 14 to 23 years.


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