19 illegal immigrants ‘suffocated’ in truck

A TRUCK driver has been resentenced to nearly 34 years in prison after a federal appeals court last year overturned the multiple life sentences he received for his role in America’s deadliest human smuggling attempt, which resulted in the deaths of 19 illegal immigrants.

yrone Williams was given his new sentence of 405 months in prison during a court hearing today in which prosecutors argued that despite the appeals court’s ruling, the truck driver deserved to remain in prison for life for the deadly May 2003 smuggling attempt inside a sweltering tractor-trailer.

Williams, 39, had faced possible death sentences on 19 counts of transporting illegal immigrants. But a jury in 2007 decided to sentence him to life in prison without parole.

However, the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Williams was not eligible for capital punishment.

The court also said US District Judge Lee Rosenthal, who presided over the trial, should have sentenced Williams on those counts.

Before he was resentenced, Williams, who began crying, told the judge he did not merit a life sentence as prosecutors had requested.

“If I had known those people were in trouble like that, I would have opened those doors,” Williams said. “I don’t kill people, your honour.”

In total, Williams was convicted on 58 counts of conspiracy, harbouring and transporting illegal immigrants.

Prosecutors dismissed 19 harbouring counts while Williams was sentenced on 20 other counts by Judge Rosenthal: 20 years for 19 other transporting counts and to nearly 34 years for the conspiracy count.

The appeals court upheld the sentences on those counts.

The smuggling attempt began in the South Texas city of Harlingen, where more than 70 immigrants from Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic were packed inside Williams’ tractor-trailer.

Williams was supposed to take the immigrants only about 190km north to Robstown. But during the trip, Williams was told to instead take them to Houston, which was more than 320km past Robstown.

However during the more than three-hour trip, Williams never turned on the air conditioning in the airtight truck. As temperatures in the trailer skyrocketed to as high as 78 degrees celsius, the immigrants kicked walls, clawed at insulation, broke out tail lights and screamed for help.

Despite stopping the vehicle twice during the trip and realising the immigrants were in danger, Williams didn’t let them out.

Williams abandoned the trailer at a truck stop near Victoria, about 160km southwest of Houston. Williams, an immigrant from Jamaica who lived in Schenectady, New York, was later arrested in Houston.

Seventeen people, including a five-year-old boy, were found dead in the trailer. Two others died later.

All the deaths were attributed to dehydration, overheating and suffocation.

Besides Williams, 13 others were indicted in the case.

Two had charges against them dismissed, one who cooperated with prosecutors was sentenced to the three days in jail she served after her arrest and the others were given sentences ranging from 14 months to 23 years in prison.

Williams was the only one who faced a possible death sentence.

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