Tucson Citizen
Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Douglas rancher on trial in migrants' assault

The Associated Press

HEBBRONVILLE, Texas - A member of a patrol group that says it protects property along the Mexican border recalled for jurors yesterday how Casey Nethercott showed off his weaponry and attack dog shortly before he allegedly assaulted two illegal immigrants.

Nethercott, 37, who owns a ranch in Douglas, Ariz., faces felony charges of assault and unlawful possession of a weapon in the March 18, 2003, attack. He has pleaded not guilty to both counts.

Nethercott was arrested in Arizona Nov. 25 by FBI agents and Douglas police officers. Ranch Rescue started operating in Arizona last year.

Yesterday, Jeremy Dombroski testified in Nethercott's trial that Nethercott "was showing off what he said was armor-piercing ammunition."

In opening statements, Assistant District Attorney Rudolfo Gutierrez described how the illegal immigrants thought Nethercott was one of a group of U.S. soldiers.

"They were dressed in camouflage, military clothing," Gutierrez told the jury. He said the illegal immigrants "were made to kneel on the ground and they were questioned about drugs."

Edwin Mancia Gonzalez of El Salvador was traveling with Fatima Leiva Medina, a fellow Salvadoran.

The two told officials they had crossed the Rio Grande and were on their way to jobs in Houston. Shortly before midnight, they were dropped off by the Sutton ranch and told to cross the property. They said they were hiding in brush when Nethercott set his dog on them and went on to pistol-whip Mancia.

Mancia and Leiva sat quietly in the courtroom during opening statements.

Defense attorney Joseph Jacobson told the jury the prosecution lacked proof.

"It was absolutely impossible for my client to have committed these crimes," he said. "It simply didn't happen."

Nethercott appeared in a suit and conferred frequently with Jacobson.

The night of the alleged attack, Ranch Rescue was staging Operation Falcon, a patrol of the Jim Hogg County ranch owned by Joe and Betty Lou Sutton.

The Suttons have said they were tired of illegal immigrants trying to dodge immigration checkpoints by passing through their ranch, leaving a trail of broken fences and empty food containers. They said calls to the U.S. Border Patrol were futile because agents would arrive too late.

Jack Foote, spokesman for Ranch Rescue, said previously that the group stopped supporting Nethercott months ago because he stole the group's stash of weapons and field gear. He said he did not know that Nethercott had been convicted of assault with a firearm in California and was on parole when he joined Ranch Rescue.

The first witness, Deputy Sheriff Guadalupe Rodriguez, described finding two camouflage-wearing suspects in the attack at the town's Dairy Queen the next day.

Rodriguez identified Nethercott as one of the men and said he consented to a search of his van, which contained at 360 rounds of rifle and shotgun ammunition. He said a shotgun magazine was found in a garbage can at the Sheriff's Department in a Dairy Queen bag that Nethercott was carrying.

In cross-examination, Jacobson suggested that the bag also could have belonged to Henry Conner. Charges against Conner, a Ranch Rescue member, have since been dropped.

Mancia and Leiva are expected to testify today.

They also are seeking damages in a civil lawsuit scheduled for trial in August, which accuses Nethercott as well as Ranch Rescue and the Suttons of human rights abuse.