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Mexican man sentenced to 10 years in prison in connection to migrant death in Doña Ana County


DOÑA ANA COUNTY, New Mexico (KVIA) -- A Mexican national was sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges related to a deadly human smuggling conspiracy last year.

Rafael Radillo-Bernal, 40, pled guilty earlier this year for his role as a foot guide in the conspiracy, where officials said he threatened witnesses to cover up his involvement after one migrant died from heat exposure in the New Mexico desert.

According to court documents, Texas Department of Public Safety officers pulled over a vehicle driven by Jorge Luis Estrada-Velasquez with four undocumented immigrants on July 18, 2023. Authorities said the migrants told agents that other members of their group were still in the desert a few miles away and one was very ill.

Documents state that Border Patrol agents and emergency medical personnel found Rafael Radillo-Bernal, 40, and three others in the desert near Strauss Road in Doña Ana County.

Agents then began rendering aid to one of the migrants, who appeared to be sick. The individual died as a result of the heat.

Border Patrol took the surviving seven immigrants, including Estrada-Velasquez and Radillo-Bernal, into custody. Estrada-Velasquez was charged with "Conspiracy to Transport Illegal Aliens."

The seven immigrants were designated as material witnesses.

Officials said initially, none of the witnesses admitted to being the foot guide, and one claimed the guide had returned to Mexico. After their initial appearances, the witnesses were released to a halfway house in Las Cruces.

On September 8, 2023, officials said two witnesses alleged that Radillo-Bernal was the foot guide, and had threatened them to remain silent about his role in the conspiracy.

Radillo-Bernal pled guilty to the charges on January 23.

Estrada-Velasquez pled guilty to conspiracy to the charges on October 19, 2023, and was sentenced to 36 months in federal prison.

After completing their terms of imprisonment, both men will be subject to deportation proceedings.

Homeland Security Investigations investigated this case with the assistance of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Assistant United States Attorney Alyson R. Hehr prosecuted the case.

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Kerry Mannix


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