EDINBURG, Texas — A South Texas teenager was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being convicted in a 2012 accident that killed nine immigrants.
Junior Benjamin Rodriguez, 17, of Mission, was sentenced Tuesday. He was 15 when he was fleeing Border Patrol agents and flipped a van carrying at least 17 immigrants.
Rodriguez, who was charged as an adult, had faced nine counts of murder, but prosecutors reduced the charges to nine counts of manslaughter as part of his guilty plea.
He will be eligible for parole in 2018, The Monitor reported (http://bit.ly/1AUeV0h ).
Before his sentencing, Rodriguez told Hidalgo County District Judge Israel Ramon that he did not intend for the wreck to happen and apologized.
But Ramon said it was hard to look past the immigrants' deaths. He imposed the maximum punishment allowed by law.
"It's really difficult to overlook the consequences of what you did, even if it wasn't an intentional act," Ramon said.
One of the teen's attorneys, Jaime Aleman, asked Ramon for leniency before his ruling. Aleman said despite his client being set to receive $300 for driving the van, Rodriguez had been coerced into the job by others involved in transporting immigrants.
Rob Guerra, a Hidalgo County Assistant District Attorney, asked for the maximum penalty in hopes it may deter other teens from accepting an "easy buck" for smuggling immigrants.
"The families of those people will never have their people back," he said.
Information from: The Monitor, http://www.themonitor.com