On the day after a state grand jury decided not to bring charges against a marine who shot and killed a local teenager during an anti-drug operation on the Mexican border, embittered supporters of the young man’s family vowed Friday to press for a new grand jury proceeding and for disciplinary action against federal officials in charge of the operation.
“This is not the end,” said the Rev. Mel LaFollette, a community leader in the village of Redford, in the Big Bend region of Texas, where the youth, Esequiel Hernandez Jr., 18, was killed on May 20. “This is the beginning.”
At the same time, officials in the civil rights division of the Justice Department announced that they were investigating whether any civil rights violations had occurred in Hernandez’s killing, although the officials emphasized that their step was only preliminary.
The marine, Cpl. Clemente Banuelos, 22, who killed Hernandez with an M-16 rifle, has said he did so because he saw Hernandez, while herding goats, raise his own rifle and feared that the youth was about to shoot at one of three other marines with whom Banuelos was on patrol.
In their own way, the grand jurors appeared to have reached the same conclusion. In an unusual step, they asked the local district attorney, Albert Valadez, to explain their reasoning, and he did so before a throng of reporters on the lawn of the Presidio County Courthouse late Thursday night.
The grand jurors, Valadez said, believed that Hernandez, who routinely carried his World War I-vintage rifle while tending his family’s goat herd, never intended to fire at anybody.
The marines were in full camouflage at the time of the shooting, and state investigators have said Hernandez, who the marines say had already fired twice in their general direction, might not have known that there were other people in the area. Instead, investigators say, he may have been firing to scare off animals the area that prey on goats.
Nonetheless, when Hernandez raised his rifle and prepared to shoot in the direction of Blood, Valadez said in describing the grand jurors’ conclusion, “Clemente Banuelos acted reasonably in defense of a third person.”
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