Man convicted in harboring case seeks new trial - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Man convicted in harboring case seeks new trial

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Posted: Friday, December 6, 2019 7:30 pm

A man who was convicted on charges related to harboring undocumented persons at his Brownsville home filed a motion in federal court requesting a new trial this week.

Rodolfo Vento, Jr. filed the motion through his attorney, John Russell Davis, on Wednesday alleging that an error made by United States attorneys prosecuting the case led to an unfair trial.

In the document, Davis wrote that government attorneys ignored two Motions in Limine by U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald G. Morgan and U.S. District Judge Fernanado Rodriguez, Jr. that sought to keep Vento’s 2011 conviction from being used as testimony against him during trial.

A 2-year-old child who was found in the care of two female adults at Vento’s Brownsville home after the boy had been reported missing by his undocumented mother, who was apprehended by Border Patrol after she was unable to scale the border wall near Southmost.

A brush guide paid to transport a group of undocumented persons across the Rio Grande testified that he fled with the child in his arms after receiving warning that Border Patrol officials were approaching the group.

During Vento’s trial, Assistant United States Attorney Elena Llanos-Salinas played phone calls that Vento made from jail in which he referenced the prior conviction, indicating that he was not able to find work because of it.

The government used the contents of the calls to signify “lack of remorse”, as well as Vento’s alleged intent to profit from his role in transporting and harboring individuals who were smuggled across the Rio Grande and into Brownsville.

Davis wrote that the evidence was ordered to not be introduced, according to a rule that states it must be withheld “until a hearing has been held outside the presence of the jury and a ruling has been issued from the Court permitting the use of any such evidence.”

The attorney also stated that he made no objection to the inclusion of the phone calls at the time they were played “out of a combination of surprise at the introduction of this evidence by the prosecutor” before asking for the Court’s permission.

Additionally, Davis cited “strategic concerns about not wishing to draw additional attention to the proverbial bell that had just been, and could no longer, be un-rung.”

During the trail, Rodriguez called for a bench conference in which it was decided that the phone calls would be allowed admitted as evidence, saying, “The cat is out of the bag, so to speak.”

According to the motion for a new trial, that government had admitted further exhibits that alluded to a “bad act” committed by Vento, which were then redacted and edited so as not to sway the jury.

The document argued that Vento should be granted a new trial as Salinas violated the court’s standing order to exclude references to the prior conviction and subsequently denied the court the opportunity to weigh whether the evidence could prejudice the man’s trial.

esheridan@brownsvilleherald.com

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