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Friday, Nov. 20, 2009 | Investigators on the scene of the shooting of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in July were ecstatic as only they could be at the sight of a trail of blood leading away from the murder location.

Clearly it was not the blood of slain U.S. Border Patrol Agent Robert Rosas, whose body was crumpled nearby. A shooter got shot. And left crucial DNA evidence behind.

Turns out the DNA was less crucial than they might have thought. A 16-year-old Mexican national, Christian Daniel Castro-Alvarez, quietly turned himself in to the FBI in August and pleaded guilty this morning in federal court to fatally shooting the 30-year-old agent in a robbery gone bad. The youth faces a life sentence.

Rosas lost his life because the assailants, including the teen, wanted to rob him. The agent’s gun was missing as well as other gear from his backpack. The robbery escalated to murder when Rosas fought back.

The young shooter contacted the FBI because of his injuries, and because he feared for his safety and that of his family as an intense manhunt by U.S. officials got underway, according to court records and federal law enforcement officials. He surrendered to American agents in Tijuana about three weeks after the shooting and was escorted across the border, arrested in the United States and taken to Juvenile Hall without official extradition, said the sources, who asked not to be identified because the continuing investigation is secret.

His arrest was kept secret as authorities tried to close in on accomplices. Other suspects are still being sought.

In court, the teen appeared emotional and nervous as U.S. District Judge M. James Lorenz questioned him about his plea to a single count of murder of a federal officer in commission of a robbery. Castro admitted he and others lured the agent out of his vehicle to rob him and during a struggle he and one or more accomplices shot Rosas. Castro was shot in the hand.

During the hearing, while Border Patrol officials watched, Castro seemed anguished, holding his hand to his temple and interrupting the proceedings three times to insist that he had no intention of killing Rosas.

“Mr. Castro wants to be perfectly clear that the record is clear and shows that he himself did not fatally shoot the agent … and did not intend to harm the agent,” said his attorney, Ezekiel Cortez, who tried to comfort his client with a hand on the teen’s shoulder. “Again, he wants to be sure the record shows he didn’t shoot the agent.”

Outside court, Cortez said his client is “deeply, deeply remorseful for what happened. This is a tragedy for everyone. At no time did he have any intent at all to harm anyone.”

Rosas, a 30-year-old married father, was on patrol in Campo about 9 p.m. on July 23, tracking suspected undocumented immigrants in rocky terrain near the border fence when he came under fire, according to an autopsy report.

Agent Rosas, a three-year Border Patrol member, was shot eight times: four times in the head, three times in the torso and once in the neck, the autopsy report said. He became the first Border Patrol agent shot in the line of duty since 1998.

It’s unclear at this point whether Castro was shot by Rosas or by friendly fire from his accomplices.

Rosas’ slaying rocked the law enforcement community. U.S. Customs and Border Protection offered a $250,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible; the FBI also offered a $100,000 reward plus an additional $10,000 for information leading to the recovery of Rosas’ gun.

As part of his plea deal, Castro agreed to have his case transferred from juvenile to adult status. He will not be eligible for the death penalty, however, because of his age. He is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 19.

Update: Citations have been added to the fifth paragraph that weren’t in the original version.

Please contact Kelly Thornton directly at kellythornton7407@yahoo.com. And set the tone of the debate with a letter to the editor.

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