Jurors deadlocked 8-4 in the trial of border aid worker Scott Warren on felony human-smuggling charges, his defense attorney said.
The split was eight jurors voting “not guilty” and four “guilty,” Warren’s defense attorney Greg Kuykendall said Tuesday afternoon after U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins declared a mistrial.
“The government put on its best case with the full force of countless resources and 12 jurors could not agree with that case,” Kuykendall told a crowd of supporters outside the federal courthouse in Tucson.
Warren was indicted on one count of conspiring to smuggle two Central American men in January 2018 and two counts of harboring them at a structure in Ajo known as “The Barn,” which is used as a staging area for humanitarian aid efforts.
The split among the jurors was the same on all three charges, Kuykendall said.
Federal prosecutors, who would not comment after the trial, can choose whether to retry Warren. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Glenn McCormick, declined to comment on whether the government would do so. Collins set a status conference on the case for July 2.
Warren is a 36-year-old aid worker with the Tucson-based humanitarian group No More Deaths. He testified he leaves water and food for cross-border migrants in the treacherous deserts near Ajo. He also searches for migrants in distress and has recovered 18 sets of human remains believed to belong to migrants.
More than 2,800 sets of human remains were found from 2000 to 2017 in the wilderness of Southern Arizona, according to the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner.
The trial was the first time in more than a decade that a Southern Arizona border aid worker faced felony human-smuggling charges.
National news media followed the case and United Nations human rights experts condemned his arrest. Warren’s supporters packed the courtroom gallery each of the seven days of the trial and lined a hallway outside the courtroom as the jury deliberated for three days, unable to reach verdicts.
During the trial, federal prosecutors Nathaniel Walters and Anna Wright said Warren was the “hub” of a conspiracy that included two people who were not indicted or charged, a 67-year-old nurse, and the operator of a migrant shelter in Sonoyta, a Mexican border town south of Ajo.
The goal of the conspiracy was to further migrants’ illegal crossing from the border to Phoenix, as well as “thwart the Border Patrol at every possible turn,” the prosecution said.
The shelter operator, Irineo Mujica, was not charged in U.S. federal court, despite Border Patrol agents stopping him at a checkpoint near Ajo twice in the weeks after Warren’s arrest. But Mujica was arrested last week by Mexican authorities and accused of taking money in exchange for helping Honduran migrants enter Mexico and move up to the U.S. border.
Border Patrol agents arrested Warren after they saw him point to mountains in what they believed was an attempt to guide the two Central American men around a nearby Border Patrol checkpoint.
Warren’s defense lawyers argued he simply tried to alleviate the suffering of two men who showed up unexpectedly at The Barn. When he returned from grocery shopping to find the two men at The Barn, he followed protocols set up by lawyers advising No More Deaths and checked their feet and vital signs.
He called a doctor, who advised they keep off their feet and drink water, Warren testified. He said he barely spoke to the two men over the next few days while he taught classes and recovered from an illness. He pointed to two mountains so the men would be able to get back to a highway if they got lost or injured, he testified.
After Collins declared a mistrial due to the hung jury, Warren walked outside the courthouse to speak with his supporters.
He said 88 bodies were recovered in the desert of Southern Arizona since he was arrested.
“The government’s plan in the midst of this humanitarian crisis? Policies to target undocumented people, refugees, and their families,” Warren read from a prepared statement. “Prosecutions to criminalize humanitarian aid, kindness, and solidarity.
“And now, the revelation that they will build an enormous and expensive wall across a vast stretch of southwestern Arizona’s unbroken Sonoran Desert.”
He called on local residents and humanitarian aid volunteers to “stand in solidarity with migrants and refugees.”
Warren thanked his supporters, but “the other men arrested with me that day, Jose Sacaria Goday and Kristian Perez Villanueva, have not received the attention and outpouring of support that I have.”
“I do not know how they are doing now, but I do hope they are safe,” Warren said.
Warren’s father, Mark, said he hoped the prosecutors would say “we gave it our best shot” and not retry his son.
“Scott has never faltered a bit in his testimony because he was telling the truth,” Mark Warren said.
Scott Warren’s legal team remains committed to Warren’s “lifelong devotion to providing humanitarian aid,” Kuykendall said outside the courthouse.
The United States has a long history of “demonizing” people who some feel don’t belong, Kuykendall said.
“But just as deep and ever-present in America is a contingent of people, always a minority at first who are resolute people of conscience, people who love, honor, and respect all other people, regardless of race or status,” Kuykendall said.
“People who put to use in order to help the dispossessed their own birth privilege or their own educational privilege, or simply their privilege of being capable of making themselves heard. Ultimately, they do that to change this country.”
In a separate case, Warren awaits the verdict in a bench trial on misdemeanor charges related to driving on the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in 2017 to leave water jugs for border-crossing migrants.
Eight other volunteers were charged in connection with similar efforts.