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Human Smuggling Tragedy: Cases against 22 undocumented immigrants dismissed

Eldia Contreras wipes away a tear as she takes part in a vigil at San Fernando Cathedral for victims who died as a result of being transported in a tractor-trailer Sunday, July 23, 2017, in San Antonio. Several people died after being crammed into a sweltering tractor-trailer found parked outside a Walmart in the midsummer Texas heat, authorities said Sunday in what they described as an immigrant-smuggling attempt gone wrong. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

SAN ANTONIO - A judge in San Antonio dismissing the cases against the 22 material witnesses in the human smuggling operation which resulted in the deaths of ten undocumented aliens back in July.

United States Magistrate Judge Elizabeth S. Chestney signed the order dismissing the criminal complaints the material witness in the case of U.S. v. James Matthew Bradley, and their depositions scheduled for this week have been cancelled. The witnesses are being turned over to immigration authorities for processing.

Bradley, who remains in federal custody, is charged by federal grand jury indictment for his alleged role in the operation. No trial date has been scheduled. He’s facing five counts, including a count of illegally transporting immigrants for financial gain, resulting in death, and a separate count of conspiracy to transport immigrants illegally, resulting in death. Those charges carry the possibility of the death penalty.

Bradley was also indicted on two counts related to illegally transporting immigrants resulting in serious bodily injury, and one count of firearm possession by a convicted felon. The indictment alleges Bradley, who pleaded guilty in 1997 to a felony domestic violence case in Colorado, was in possession of a .38-caliber pistol.

At least 39 people were inside the trailer as it drove from the border city of Laredo to San Antonio, about 150 miles north. The trailer's refrigeration system was broken, and investigators said passengers struggled to breathe as the temperature rose to dangerous levels. One witness told The Associated Press he heard people crying and asking for water.

Investigators have said they believe Bradley was part of a broader conspiracy funding and planning the smuggling operation.

According to a criminal complaint released in July, Bradley told investigators that the trailer had been sold and he was transporting it for his boss from Iowa to Brownsville, Texas. But said he had driven to Laredo and stopped twice there before driving back to San Antonio, in the opposite direction from Brownsville.

He denied knowing people were inside the trailer. After hearing banging and shaking, he opened the door and was "surprised when he was run over by 'Spanish' people and knocked to the ground," according to the criminal complaint.

Human smuggling operations often linked to Mexican drug cartels are a major problem for law enforcement along the United States' southern border. Border Patrol agents in West Texas found 20 people crammed in a semitrailer just this week, one day after police in the border city of Edinburg discovered 16 people inside another trailer.

Most of the people known to have been on board were from Mexico. Others are believed to have fled from the truck after it stopped.

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