February 8, 2013
by Kurt Pendergast
The autopsy report of a 16-year-old Sonoran youth who was shot and killed by a U.S. Border Patrol agent last October suggests that he was shot as many as 11 times and most of the shots struck him in the back.
What’s more, the apparent upward trajectory of some of the bullets raises questions about the position Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez was in when he was shot on a Nogales, Sonora street after allegedly throwing rocks at law enforcement officers standing at least 10 feet above him behind the border fence on West International Street.
According to an independent expert who reviewed the autopsy report, one possible explanation for the discrepancy between the trajectory and the physical location is that the Sonoran physicians who conducted the autopsy confused the entry and exit wounds.
“Another one is that the story’s not right,” said Dr. Gregory Hess, chief medical examiner for Pima County. “There’s all kinds of different ways to look at it, but if the story’s correct and their trajectories are correct, then somehow the person that got shot would have had to have been off their feet.”
The report was signed by Dr. Absalon Madrigal Godinez and Dr. Javier Diaz Trejo, medical examiners in Nogales, Sonora who conducted the autopsy of Rodriguez’s body early on Oct. 11, 2012, less than 12 hours after he was shot. The NI obtained a copy of the report from Luis Parra, an attorney representing the Elena Rodriguez family in Arizona, and then asked Hess to interpret the report’s findings.
Previous reports from attorneys and Sonoran officials put the number of bullets that impacted Rodriguez’s body at seven or eight. But Hess, who reviewed the report with the help of a translator from the medical examiner’s office, noted “maybe up to 10 or 11” gunshot wounds.
The trajectory of the bullets described in the report was from Rodriguez’s “back to his front, from his right to his left, and slightly upward,” Hess said, adding that the Sonoran medical examiners recovered six projectiles in Rodriguez’s body, according to the report.
In addition to the possibility that the medical examiners confused the entry and exit wounds, Hess noted that another possible explanation for the varying trajectory of the bullets could be that a number of rounds were fired in rapid succession, with the first rounds knocking Rodriguez to the ground before the subsequent rounds impacted.
However, determining which bullet impacted first if multiple rounds were fired is problematic, he said. “There’s no way, based on the autopsy, you can tell which one came first unless they were really separated in time, like a day or something like that, then you could look at healing and stuff like that,” he said.
When asked for comment on the autopsy report and an update on the investigation, a spokesperson for the FBI, the lead U.S. agency in the case, declined to comment on an ongoing investigation. The agency has declined to release any information on the case since taking over the investigation from the Border Patrol and Nogales Police Department on the night of the shooting.
A statement released by the Border Patrol in the wake of the incident said that an agent fired into Mexico, apparently striking one person, in response to rock-throwers who were attempting to disrupt a drug-smuggling attempt at the border fence.
The Elena Rodriguez family has not heard anything from federal agencies, other than the initial statements released directly after the shooting, said Parra, the attorney who, along with Roberto Montiel, is representing the family in Arizona.
“They believe that after three months, there should be at least some response from Border Patrol, from the Department of Homeland Security, or the Department of Justice,” he said.
“The family thinks it’s a tragedy and they’re insisting on having answers,” he said.
“We’re being respectful of the timeline of the investigation,” Parra said, noting that the investigation by Mexican authorities concluded in December. “But we do believe that at least some information should be provided at this point by the [U.S.] government.”