[Pnews] The Unraveling of the Conspiracy Case Against No More Deaths Volunteer Scott Warren

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Aug 12 14:21:32 EDT 2019


  The Unraveling of the Conspiracy Case Against No More Deaths Volunteer
  Scott Warren

Ryan Devereaux - August 10, 2019

_The federal courthouse_ in Tucson, Arizona, has always been a place 
where the borderlands and the American justice system collide. Described 
by its engineers as “a gateway to the desert and the mountains beyond,” 
it was completed in 2000, the year that the Pima County medical 
examiner’s office began tracking an explosion of deaths in that same desert.

Each afternoon, Monday through Thursday, dozens of chained migrants who 
survived the journey across the border but found themselves in Border 
Patrol custody are marched up from the building’s bowels for mass 
hearings. They come in groups of up to 70 at a time. You hear the chains 
before you see the people — men and women still wearing the clothes they 
crossed in. Appearing before a judge in clusters, they confess to 
entering without inspection, receive their sentences, and leave. Cases 
are adjudicated in minutes.

On May 29, as the prosecutorial machine churned on, a courtroom on the 
building’s fifth floor filled for a different kind of proceeding. 
Marshals with radio-linked earpieces lined the back wall. District Judge 
Raner Collins took his seat. Before him, a crowd of people sat shoulder 
to shoulder on wooden benches. After 16 emotional months, the moment had 
finally come.

A young prosecutor in a baggy suit approached the microphone. The 
American flag pin fixed to his lapel glinted in the light.

“This case is not about humanitarian aid,” Nathaniel J. Walters declared 
in his first words to the jury. Instead, he said, it was about Scott 
Warren’s decision to take part in a conspiracy to break the law and 
“shield two illegal aliens from law enforcement over the course of 
several days.” Warren was a “high-ranking leader of an organization 
called No More Deaths,” Walters told the jurors, but “No More Deaths is 
not on trial. Scott Warren is.”

For nearly a year and a half, Walters and his co-counsel, Anna Wright, 
had been working to put Warren in prison. The then-35-year-old 
geographer was arrested on January 17, 2018, along with two young 
migrants in the unincorporated community of Ajo, where Warren lives and 
works. He was accused of providing 23-year-old Kristian 
Perez-Villanueva, of El Salvador, and 20-year-old José Sacaria-Goday, of 
Honduras, with food, water, and a place to sleep over three days.

By the time the felony trial began, the prosecutors had already brought 
federal misdemeanor charges 
against Warren and eight other volunteers with No More Deaths, a 
faith-based organization headquartered in Tucson, for leaving jugs of 
water and other aid supplies on federal lands where migrants are known 
to die. The prosecutors had won four convictions in those cases, but the 
punishments were relatively light — $250 fines plus probation. The 
felony case presented an opportunity to mete out real consequences: 20 
years in prison if Warren was convicted and sentenced to consecutive terms.

Signs began popping up in front yards and windows across Tucson in the 
months leading up to the trial. Humanitarian Aid Is Never a Crime/,/ 
they read, Drop the Charges/./ Immigrant rights advocates were watching 
closely. If the prosecution succeeded, they worried, it could set a 
disastrous precedent. Not only would a conviction threaten aid work in a 
region where thousands of migrants have died, but it could also 
conceivably open the door to a broader criminalization of anyone 
knowingly providing undocumented people with the basics of human life, 
including individuals living in families with mixed immigration status.

Standing before the jury, Walters promised to tell the story of Warren’s 
central role in a criminal conspiracy and to show, beyond the shadow of 
doubt, that Warren chose to violate the law. As the prosecutor took his 
seat, defense attorney Greg Kuykendall rose. He crossed the courtroom 
and set a slide on the court projector.

“INTENT,” the slide said, in large, red letters.

“There’s one question in this case,” the defense attorney told the 
jurors. “Did these government prosecutors prove with evidence beyond a 
reasonable doubt that Scott Warren intended to violate the law?” 
Kuykendall contended that he did not. “Scott intended one thing: to 
provide basic human kindness in the form of humanitarian aid.”

“Keep your eyes on the ball,” he advised.

_In the trial_ of U.S. v. Scott Daniel Warren, 12 jurors were presented 
with a set of events and told to come to a unanimous conclusion about 
its meaning. They would fail 
but in doing so they became a mirror, reflecting a country deeply 
divided on the moral and legal questions raised by its border 
enforcement strategies. As much as the prosecution and defense worked to 
keep the jurors’ eyes on the ball, there was simply no denying that 
virtually every element of the trial, right down to the way it ended, 
felt like a referendum not just on the current political moment, but on 
a multi-decade government policy of pushing migrants to the border’s 
deadliest spaces.

The government’s argument was not that Scott Warren had somehow strayed 
inadvertently into criminal activity in an effort to do the right thing. 
Far from it. Rather than some innocent do-gooder, the prosecutors 
argued, Warren was an experienced and wily senior official in an 
organized, nonprofit human smuggling operation that uses humanitarian 
aid as a cover, and he led an illegal operation in January 2018 in 
service of a broader political agenda aimed at abolishing Immigration 
and Customs Enforcement and the Border Patrol and ushering in a 
borderless society.

The critical events in the case boiled down to a nine-day period early 
last year.

On January 14, Warren arrived at “the Barn,” a building long used by 
humanitarian groups in Ajo, to find Perez-Villanueva and Sacaria-Goday 
already inside the bathroom. According to their videotaped depositions, 
later played for the jury, the pair spent approximately two days 
crossing the desert. Both said that trauma accompanied their journeys. 
Sacaria-Goday referred to the suffering of his northbound train trek, 
while Perez-Villanueva described fleeing problems in El Salvador. The 
young men said they had been chased by immigration agents and dropped 
most of their supplies, including their food. They made it to Ajo on 
foot, where they got two rides from two different drivers at two 
separate gas stations. The second driver dropped them off at the Barn. 
Both drivers were strangers, the migrants said.

The two young men asked Warren for food and water. He obliged and 
performed medical assessments on both of them. A certified wilderness 
first responder, Warren recorded their conditions in medical forms known 
as SOAP notes, noting the nickel- and quarter-sized blisters on their 
feet. Perez-Villanueva also had scratches — “rayones” — on his right 
hand and reported cold symptoms. Sacaria-Goday complained of serious 
pain in his torso, the result of falling on a rock days earlier. In 
keeping with No More Deaths’ protocol, Warren called for advice from two 
women who have long provided medical services for humanitarian groups in 
southern Arizona: Susannah Brown, a local nurse in Ajo, and Dr. Norma 
Price, an award-winning physician.

The migrants spent three days and two nights at the Barn, while Warren 
and other humanitarian aid volunteers came and went. All three men were 
arrested on the afternoon of January 17, as the migrants were preparing 
to carry on north.

The jurors in Warren’s case were told to count one fact as stipulated: 
that the Pima County medical examiner’s office had recorded 
approximately 3,000 suspected migrant deaths in southern Arizona since 
2000. During deliberations, they were later directed to keep in mind 
that there is no legal obligation upon citizens to report suspected 
undocumented immigrants — or any other suspected criminals — to law 
enforcement. For at least one of the jurors, the premise of the 
prosecution was a problem. Following the opening arguments, the young 
woman passed a note to the judge, informing him that she could not 
participate in an attempt to convict Warren for the events that had been 

The next morning, she was gone.

_With the exception_ of the two migrants, the government’s witnesses 
were all Border Patrol agents. Two of them, John Marquez and Brendan 
Burns, were members of the plainclothes “Disrupt Unit” that took Warren 
into custody. Both testified in pretrial hearings in the case, 
describing Disrupt as a specialized unit focused on bringing in 
smuggling cases linked to organized criminal networks. Marquez had taken 
a particular interest in Warren in the days leading up to his arrest, 
text messages showed 
and the operation itself was initiated hours after No More Deaths 
released a report 
— accompanied with a viral video — documenting the destruction of 
thousands of gallons of water in the desert and implicating the Border 
Patrol in the vandalism.

The prosecution leaned hard on selfies and security camera footage of 
the migrants at two Ajo gas stations as evidence that they were not in 
need of aid. At Wright’s direction, Burns narrated their actions inside 
one of the stores, describing the migrants stretching, charging their 
phones, sharing a Powerade, and laughing with a cashier. The prosecutor 
then displayed a still image. Shot from overhead, it showed two smiling 
young men in white undershirts inside a building: Perez-Villanueva and 
Sacaria-Goday in the Barn. Behind them, a trio of No More Deaths 
volunteers waved and flashed peace signs for the camera.

“Looking at Mr. Perez-Villanueva and Sacaria-Goday, from what you can 
see, do either of them have any bruises, cuts, marks on them?” Wright asked.

“No, ma’am,” the Border Patrol agent replied.

Another image showed Perez-Villanueva alone, taking a selfie. A 
third showed the Central Americans smiling as they cooked a meal in the 
Barn’s kitchen. In each instance, the prosecutor asked if Burns saw 
signs of injury. He did not.

By the time the jurors heard from Perez-Villanueva and Sacaria-Goday 
themselves, in the form of roughly three hours of videotaped deposition 
testimony, their street clothes and smiles were gone, replaced by 
detention center jumpsuits.

    By the time the jurors heard from Perez-Villanueva and Sacaria-Goday
    themselves, their street clothes and smiles were gone, replaced by
    detention center jumpsuits.

They described how, by the time they reached the outskirts of Ajo, they 
were hungry, thirsty, and their feet hurt. Sacaria-Goday said he lied to 
Border Patrol agents at various points during his initial arrest 
interview because he was angry. Perez-Villanueva testified that the 
person who drove them to the Barn told them to keep quiet about his role 
and that they honored his request when Warren showed up. Both said 
Warren was “hardly” present during their stay, that they barely spoke 
with him, and that he never gave them directions north. They said they 
were free to come and go as they pleased.

The government then laid out its theory of a criminal conspiracy.

In his opening statement, Walters confirmed that a man named Irineo 
Mujica was Warren’s alleged co-conspirator. Mujica operates a migrant 
shelter in the Mexican border town of Sonoyta, just south of Ajo. He is 
better known, however, for his role leading Pueblo Sin Fronteras, an 
immigration rights group that organized and supported some of the 
migrant caravans that led President Donald Trump to declare a national 
emergency and deploy thousands of troops to the border last year. In 
February, The Intercept revealed 
that Mujica and Pueblo Sin Fronteras were targets in a sprawling 
intelligence-gathering operation that swept up a number of activists, 
journalists, and immigration attorneys working with caravan members in 
the San Diego, Tijuana, area in late 2018 and early 2019.

These data points together raised a host of questions about what might 
be revealed in Warren’s trial. On its final day of arguments, the 
prosecution called Border Patrol agent Rogelio Velasco to the stand. A 
member of the Tucson sector’s intelligence unit, Velasco examined two 
key phones in the case: Perez-Villanueva’s and Warren’s.

According to the Border Patrol agent, those records showed that 
Perez-Villanueva texted Mujica the words “we’re here” after making it to 
Ajo, and that Mujica replied, “I’m on my way.” The records also showed 
that Warren had communicated with Mujica in June 2017, December 24, 
2017, and on January 11, 2018, six days before his arrest. His phone 
records further revealed communications with Susannah Brown and Norma 
Price, the nurse and the doctor, respectively, whom he had called after 
the migrants arrived at the Barn.

On cross-examination, Kuykendall asked Velasco about his process for 
narrowing down 14,000 pages of records extracted from Warren’s phone 
into a one-page report.

“Just by talking to the U.S. attorneys,” the Border Patrol agent 
testified, explaining that Walters and Wright gave him the criteria and 
date ranges to search for — none of which revealed communications 
between Warren and Perez-Villanueva, he acknowledged.

Kuykendall asked Velasco if he was aware that Mujica and Warren were 
involved in humanitarian aid efforts, and that Mujica operates a shelter 
in Mexico.

“I think I might’ve heard something, but I’m not exactly sure,” Velasco 

Kuykendall turned to the January 11 communications between Mujica and 
Warren, asking the Border Patrol agent if he had seen what Warren 
Googled after they got off the phone.

As it turned out, Warren’s phone showed that he had looked up 
backcountry regulations for federal lands south of Ajo and a recent 
documentary showing a humanitarian group finding human remains in that 
area. Velasco was unaware. The agent similarly didn’t know that, after 
the migrants arrived in Ajo, Warren Googled a Spanish word for scratches 
— “rayones” — before calling Price for medical advice. Nor did Velasco 
seem familiar with the fact that Perez-Villanueva had worked for Mujica 
while staying at his shelter, offering a possible explanation for their 
communications and relationship.

Kuykendall then introduced a June 2017 email between Warren and Mujica 
and asked if Velasco had come across it in the searches the prosecutors 
directed him to make. He had not. Kuykendall introduced another email, 
asked the same question, and received the same answer. The process 
repeated itself until roughly a dozen emails were introduced. About 
halfway through, Velasco turned his gaze to the prosecutors, a puzzled 
expression on his face.

The emails were later shown to be part of an ongoing correspondence 
between Warren, Mujica, and other humanitarian volunteers, which 
included Warren providing tips on how to obtain useable information 
regarding where missing or dead migrants could be found.

As Velasco stepped down, the prosecution recalled agent Burns. Burns was 
shown selfies Perez-Villanueva took inside a van. Based on the markings 
on its windows, Burns testified that the vehicle belonged to Mujica. He 
knew this, in part, because a week after Warren and the migrants were 
arrested, Mujica was stopped driving the van through a Border Patrol 
checkpoint outside Ajo. Inside the vehicle, Burns testified, agents 
found black water jugs often carried by migrants crossing the desert and 
multiple foreign ID cards belonging to individuals who had been deported.

Burns described racing to the scene as the stop was happening and 
finding Mujica still there when he arrived. But when Kuykendall asked 
the obvious question — whether Burns interrogated Mujica about the 
conspiracy he allegedly facilitated with Warren, a man he had arrested 
the previous week — the Border Patrol agent testified that he did not.

Instead, Burns said, Warren’s alleged co-conspirator was released.

_The second phase_ of the prosecution’s theory of conspiracy was 
unveiled on day four, when the defense called Brown to the stand. “Scott 
told me that there were two young men in need of medical care at the 
Barn,” Brown testified, referring to a phone conversation she had with 
Warren soon after the migrants’ arrival. The 67-year-old nurse, 
currently licensed in Arizona, headed to the Barn the next morning. 
Brown described inspecting the two young men and confirming the injuries 
Warren had noted. She had estimated that they might need anywhere from 
three to five days to recover.

Brown told the jury that it was not uncommon for her and Warren to take 
volunteers to Mujica’s shelter, though she didn’t specifically recall a 
trip they had made the weekend ahead of Warren’s arrest. Typically, 
Brown said, she would drive a pickup truck hauling an enormous tank of 
potable water. Volunteers would pass out “harm reduction kits,” packets 
that include chlorine for purifying water, ointment for treating 
blisters, combs for removing cactus spines, and a list of American 
emergency phone numbers, including 911. Brown would then spend the rest 
of her day treating migrants by the dozens.

    Warren’s trial was not normal.

When Walters had his shot at the nurse, on cross-examination, he zeroed 
in on these visits to Mexico and what they might really be about. He 
asked Brown if she had ever met the migrants Warren was arrested with 
before they made it to Ajo. Brown testified that she wasn’t sure.

“I see a lot of people at the clinics in Sonoyta,” she said.

The prosecutor then introduced three pieces of evidence from December 
25, 2017, the same date that the Ajo Samaritans — one of the 
humanitarian groups both Brown and Warren work with — went to the 
Sonoyta shelter to serve Christmas dinner.

Walters first flashed an unflattering close-up of Brown’s face at the 
scene. “Oh, that’s a terrible picture,” Brown responded. He then showed 
a photo of Mujica at the same location. Then, finally, the assistant 
U.S. attorney delivered his coup de grâce: cellphone video taken by 

The shot showed a group of retirement-aged volunteers preparing a picnic 
table. Brown was one of them.

Perez-Villanueva asked her name in Spanish.

“Susannah,” Brown replied. “¿Y usted?”

Normally, video of a 67-year-old white woman with U.S. citizenship 
preparing Christmas dinner for migrants at a shelter would not be the 
kind of evidence one would expect to see in a high-profile federal trial.

Warren’s trial was not normal.

As a matter of law enforcement prioritization, harboring cases are 
historically rare (though that’s changed a bit under the Trump 
administration) and are typically focused on for-profit, criminal 
networks. An analysis 
by the Arizona Daily Star uncovered just two cases out of 119 filed in 
the U.S. District Court in Tucson in the first six months of 2018 where 
the defendant was not suspected of attempting to turn a profit. Warren’s 
case was one of them.

Over and over, as the defense called its witnesses to the stand, 
prosecutors Walters and Wright implored the jury to understand that 
these individuals were not who they said they were — they were smugglers 

After Warren was arrested, the Border Patrol either forgot or failed to 
secure the Barn as a crime scene. In the days that followed, volunteer 
Flannery Shay-Nimrow took the SOAP notes and locations of water drops 
from the Barn. Walters challenged the decision: What kind of transparent 
organization removes its materials from an aid station? Shay-Nimrow 
reminded the prosecutor that No More Deaths has documented the Border 
Patrol destroying its water drops.

When longtime volunteer Geena Jackson told the jury that No More Deaths 
models its protocols after the international Red Cross, which requires 
that “humanitarian aid be separate and distinguished from law 
enforcement to be effective,” Walters pounced again.

“Isn’t it true that No More Deaths has openly advocated for the 
abolishment of ICE?” he asked.

Walters had taken the same line of attack in previous No More Deaths 
hearings and would turn to it more than once during Warren’s felony trial.

Jackson told the prosecutor that she was unsure if that was true.

“Are you aware that No More Deaths has also called for the abolishment 
for the entire Border Patrol?” Walters asked, pressing on. Given No More 
Deaths’ mission to end death and suffering in the desert, Jackson 
acknowledged, “the end of the agency that causes the death and suffering 
would make sense, yes.”

_For a prosecution_ that was ostensibly not about humanitarian aid or No 
More Deaths, the two subjects were coming up quite a bit. That remained 
so when, late in the afternoon on day five, Warren stepped onto the 
witness stand for the first time.

As people who know him often point out, Warren was perhaps the most 
challenging person the prosecution could have chosen to make an example 
of. Not only did he have the unearned advantage of being a well-educated 
white man in a prosecutorial system that comes down harder on people who 
are not, he also happened to be a profoundly effective speaker — and a 
literal expert — on the issues core to his case.

Testifying over two days, Warren told the jurors how he came to Ajo 
looking for “a quiet place to write my dissertation” and soon found 
himself immersed in a generations-old community effort to confront 
migrant deaths in the borderlands. His field is geography, he explained, 
and his focus is on the human and cultural geography of the U.S.-Mexico 
border. Warren likened Ajo to a lone population center in a “a 
low-intensity conflict zone.” It’s not as though there are out-and-out 
gun battles, he explained — “The border is not this scary, deadly place 
that you hear about in the media.” What there is, however, is an 
enormous build-up of security and surveillance infrastructure; armed 
state and nonstate actors; and civilians, some of whom happen to be 
migrating through one of the deadliest landscapes in the Western 
hemisphere, while an army of federal agents searches for them night and day.

    Warren was perhaps the most challenging person the prosecution could
    have chosen to make an example of.

Knowing what he did as an academic — the push and pull and factors that 
cause people to migrate, and the manner and scale at which they die in 
the Sonoran Desert — left him with little alternative but to act, Warren 
testified. “In one sense, it feels a little choice-less,” he said. “How 
could you not do that?” Geographers research and write about places, 
Warren acknowledged, but to him, making the place where you live “more 
humane, more just” is also part of the job.

Crossing the desert is an “epic undertaking where you have to put 
everything you’ve got on the line in order to make it,” Warren 
explained; one where it is impossible to carry enough water and “there 
is the expectation that you are going to witness death.” Warren told the 
jury about the 19 times he has recovered human remains in the desert, 
how he fixates on the loneliness that accompanies such deaths, and the 
mark those encounters have left on him. When he meets people preparing 
to, or already crossing, the desert, Warren said, a vision flashes 
through his mind. “I see these bones,” he said. “Almost like a split 

The person in the flesh, and the ones who didn’t make it.

“It’s not a stretch to say that every day, migrants are kind of coming 
stumbling out of the wilderness, knocking on doors in Ajo, needing food 
and water and other kinds of basic care,” Warren testified.

“People have been giving aid for generations in that town,” he 
explained. “The great thing about it,” he added as his first day of 
testimony wrapped up, “is humanitarian aid work is legal.”

_Court resumed the_ next morning under a darkened cloud of conspiracy. 
Approximately two hours before Warren took the witness stand the 
previous afternoon, Mujica was arrested in Sonoyta along with another 
activist. The charges, which soon became public, were related to 
illegally moving human beings across borders.

Though Mujica, who did not respond to a request for comment for this 
story, was released from custody days later, the news of his arrest 
reverberated in whispers through the Tucson courthouse. While day one of 
Warren’s testimony focused on his beliefs, day two would address the 
facts of his case. If the government planned to spring some surprise 
evidence linking Warren to the newly arrested Mujica during 
cross-examination, as they did with nurse Brown, this would be the day 
to do it.

Returning to the witness stand, with Kuykendall asking the questions, 
Warren told the jury how the first weeks of 2018 were a busy time. In 
addition to teaching classes at Arizona State University, he was also 
beginning a new gig at a community college for residents of the Tohono 
O’odham Nation Reservation, up the road from Ajo. On top of that, he was 
working as a facilitator at No More Deaths for a new monthlong volunteer 
program based out of the Barn.

Describing his January 11 communications with Mujica, Warren told the 
jury that Mujica had called with information about some human remains 
that migrants coming through his shelter had reported spotting. The tip, 
Warren testified, jogged his memory. He got off the phone and looked up 
a recently published Vice News documentary that depicted a humanitarian 
group, the Armadillos Búsqueda y Rescate, on an operation outside Ajo in 
which it reported the discovery of human remains.

“For whatever reason, the recovery was never done,” Warren said. He 
wondered if the remains the Armadillos found might be the ones Mujica 
was hearing about at the shelter.

Warren went on to explain that he and Mujica had “many email 
conversations” about search-and-recovery work in the desert and the 
coordination of volunteer visits to the shelter.

The Friday before he was taken into custody, Warren told the jury, he 
and Brown took the new volunteers to the shelter. One of those 
volunteers, Isabella Reis-Newsom, who served as Brown’s translator for 
the day, testified that the goals of the visit were to supply clean 
water, perform medical assessments, and provide information on the risks 
associated with crossing the desert. She estimated that Brown treated 
between 50 and 70 patients over multiple hours.

The new volunteers headed out into the field the following day, locating 
the human remains the Armadillos had reported. The next morning, Warren 
went to the local sheriff’s office substation to coordinate a recovery 
operation, which was completed later that afternoon. It was around 
sunset, Warren said, when he pulled into the Barn with a bag of 
groceries to make dinner for the returning volunteers. As he approached 
the building, he noticed that the bathroom door was open. 
Perez-Villanueva and Sacaria-Goday were standing in the doorway.

Perez-Villanueva did most of the talking, Warren said, explaining that 
they were looking for water and asking if they could help him with his 

“This kind of thing happens a lot in Ajo,” Warren told the jury.

Placing the perishables in the fridge, Warren began his medical 
assessments. He made his calls to Brown and Price, the doctor. Among the 
new volunteers was a fluent Spanish-speaking EMT, he added, who took 
over much of the medical supervision responsibilities when the group 
returned to the Barn. Kuykendall asked if Warren ever instructed the 
migrants to hide. Warren replied that he had not. “We can’t break the 
law,” he explained. “We want to be spending our time in the desert 
getting water out, getting food and water and medical care to people — 
not here.”

“My intention was to provide them some basic humanitarian aid,” he 
testified, and to “treat them as I would any human being who showed up 
on my doorstep.”

The following days saw Warren making a handful of appearances at the 
Barn. He spent the day of his arrest working for home, prepping 
classwork and ironing out logistics for the arrival of a group of high 
school students that night. It was around 4 p.m. when he got to the 
Barn, he said. There were three No More Deaths facilitators inside. 
Perez-Villanueva and Sacaria-Goday were still there, though they were on 
their way out. Warren took the two outside.

“I pointed out two landmarks to them,” Warren testified — Childs 
Mountain and Hat Mountain. “I told them that the critical piece of 
information that they need to know is that Highway 85 runs between those 
two mountains.”

This was not about giving the pair directions to find a ride or evade 
the Border Patrol, Warren explained. “There’s only one paved highway in 
all of this desert area,” he told the jury — it’s “the only piece of 
civilization out there.” If Perez-Villanueva and Sacaria-Goday somehow 
got to the left of Childs Mountain, they could stray into the Growler 
Valley, a profoundly remote stretch of desert where the remains of 
hundreds of migrants have been found.

If you need help, Warren told the young men, “you walk this way — you 
don’t walk that way.”

_As the prosecution_ came in for cross-examination, it felt as though 
Walters and Warren weren’t just on opposing sides but in alternate 

“In terms of No More Deaths, you would agree that you’re a high-ranking 
leader in that organization?” the prosecutor told Warren.

Warren explained that No More Deaths is more of a “flat-power 
organization,” and that “experienced volunteer” would be a fair description.

Carrying on, Walters shifted attention to the day of his arrest. Despite 
“his entire testimony” centering around the migrants’ well being, the 
prosecutor submitted for the jury that Warren’s actions in those moments 
revealed his true motives.

“You know the jig is up,” Walters said.

“The jig?” Warren asked.

“You didn’t hand over the SOAP notes,” Walters explained. These were 
hardly the actions of an innocent man.

“Well,” Warren replied. “I was in handcuffs.”

Undeterred, Walters pressed on, positioning himself to score a 
spectacular prosecutorial goal.

On the eve of his trial, Warren published an opinion piece 
in the Washington Post laying out the facts of his case and describing 
the potential precedents his conviction could set. Walters pointed to a 
line Warren wrote that “someone” had told the migrants they might be 
able to find help at the Barn.

“You knew that it was Irineo Mujica,” Walters said.

“No,” Warren testified, he didn’t know who dropped the migrants off.

The prosecutor then noted that Warren had described the deaths of 
migrants in the borderlands as “violent.” He asked Warren to tell the 
jury what he meant by “violent.” The border studies instructor, with a 
Ph.D. in the human and social geography of the region, appeared more 
than willing to offer his thoughts on the issue.

“When I think of violence, it’s more like systemic and institutional 
violence,” Warren explained — violence within “much larger policies that 
are at play.”

The mess the prosecutor made for himself became even more clear on 
rebuttal, when Kuykendall started reading Warren’s op-ed from the 
beginning. Walters objected but Collins overruled, directing the 
defendant himself to read the text.

Reading his article slowly and carefully, Warren described the dire 
humanitarian situation around Ajo and how, for years, “humanitarian 
groups and local residents navigated a coexistence with the Border 
Patrol.” After all, he noted, “in a town as small as Ajo, we’re all 
neighbors, and everybody’s kids go to the same school.” Warren 
referenced the other cases Walters and Wright had brought against No 
More Deaths volunteers for leaving water in the desert and outlined the 
“dangerous precedent” his case could set for mixed-status families.

“The Trump administration’s policies — warehousing asylees, separating 
families, caging children — seek to impose hardship and cruelty,” he 
read. “For this strategy to work, it must also stamp out kindness.”

Collins had made a daily point of telling the jurors not to research 
Warren’s case, not to discuss it with anyone, to pay no mind to the fact 
that this particular trial, for some reason, drew a packed audience and 
a crowd of demonstrators every single day. Much of what the judge would 
hope to exclude from the jurors’ minds was now trial testimony. The 
president’s name was invoked, and the case was tied directly to his most 
controversial immigration initiatives.

As Warren read from his piece, Walters stared straight ahead, posture 
rigid as he took large gulps from a Styrofoam cup.

_The next morning,_ the line to get into the courthouse was out the 
door. Wright delivered the government’s closing arguments.

On Christmas Eve, 2017, she said, Warren texted Mujica. The following 
day, Brown was at Mujica’s shelter serving food. Both Mujica and 
Perez-Villanueva were there. Weeks later, on January 11, Warren and 
Mujica spoke by phone. The next day, Warren and Brown visited the 
shelter, where they delivered No More Deaths’ harm reduction kits — or, 
as Wright referred to them, “predeparture kits.” Perez-Villanueva and 
Sacaria-Goday crossed the border the following night. Two days later, 
they made it to Ajo, where Perez-Villanueva called Mujica and got a ride 
to the Barn. Warren arrived shortly thereafter.

“That is evidence not of coincidence,” Wright told the jury. “But of 

Everything Warren did in the days that followed was in furtherance of 
this “well-made-off” criminal plan, Wright said, and nothing his 
attorneys said could be taken seriously. Warren made two calls after the 
migrants arrived, she pointed out, but the first, to the nurse, was not 
included in his SOAP notes. “That call doesn’t show up in the SOAP notes 
because it’s not about medical care,” Wright asserted. “That call is 
letting her know that he made it and the plan worked.” The notes were 
part of the cover-up, Wright said, and the migrants were never in need 
of medical care. “Mujica and the defendant have an ongoing 
relationship,” she explained. “That relationship involved activities 
around illegal aliens. Sometimes they’re search and rescue. Sometimes 
they’re this.” Warren was “the hub” in a criminal operation, she 
insisted, in which, he, Mujica, Brown, and unspecified “others conspired 
to further Kristian and José’s illegal journey into the United States.”

    “It’s not against the law in our country to provide humanitarian aid
    unless, in doing so, you intend to violate the law. There’s
    absolutely no evidence that Scott intended to violate the law.”

“The question is, what’s the benefit to him of all this?” Wright asked 
the jury. “He’s not getting any money out of it. That much is clear. So 
what does he get?”

The answer, the prosecutor argued, was that “he gets to further the 
goals of the organization,” of which he is “a high-ranking leader.” One 
of the goals of that organization, Wright told the jury, “although never 
stated outright, is to thwart Border Patrol at every possible turn.”

As Kuykendall replaced Wright at the microphone, the word “INTENT,” in 
large, red letters, returned to the jurors’ screens.

“Like I said at the beginning of this case, there’s one issue,” he said.

Walking through the legal system’s different standards of proof, the 
defense attorney stressed the high bar of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

In Warren’s case, the government had at its disposal some 500 Border 
Patrol agents in Ajo and “14,000-plus pages” of Warren’s phone records. 
“Everything about Scott’s life,” Kuykendall said. Not only did the 
prosecutors fail to produce evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, he 
argued, but there was in fact “an intentional absence of evidence.” 
Kuykendall pointed to the testimony of the agent who examined Warren’s 
cellphone, who was oblivious to a history of communications between 
Warren and Mujica.

“They’re alleging Scott talked to Irineo about some far-flung 
conspiracy, some conspiracy that doesn’t make a bit of sense, but they 
intentionally told the agent, ‘Don’t look at the emails,’” Kuykendall 
said. “If you’re the government of the United States, with all the power 
in the world, you direct your agents to review precisely this kind of 
evidence and present it to folks like you.”

And then there was the testimony of agent Burns, Kuykendall went on to 
say, who had Mujica in front of him at a Border Patrol checkpoint a week 
after Warren’s arrest and did not ask him about the alleged conspiracy. 
“If the government wanted to produce evidence to you of a conspiracy 
between Scott Warren and Irineo Mujica, what better evidence than 
finding out from Mujica what they were talking about?” Kuykendall asked. 
“Why didn’t they do that? That right there constitutes a gigantic, 
gaping, reasonable doubt.”

“If it weren’t so scary, it would be laughable,” he added. “But it isn’t 
laughable. It’s the most important day of Scott’s life.”

The defense attorney wrapped up by returning to the two stipulated facts 
in the trial. “It’s not against the law in our country to provide 
humanitarian aid unless, in doing so, you intend to violate the law,” he 
said. “There’s absolutely no evidence that Scott intended to violate the 
law. The evidence in this case is precisely the contrary.”

“Scott wanted to alleviate human suffering,” Kuykendall told the jurors. 
“This isn’t a close call.”

Wright’s rebuttal lasted more than half an hour. “We’re not saying the 
defendant is evil,” she said. “No, he did a bad thing and that’s what’s 
charged in the indictment.” The jurors had to know, Wright argued, her 
intensity building as she made her final pleas, that “this is not a case 
about deaths in the desert and a crisis and all this.”

“That is a smokescreen to distract you from what happened,” she said.

Warren and his lawyers were deploying slippery language and fancy words, 
the prosecutor argued. The idea that orientation is a human right — and 
that’s what Warren provided the migrants as he pointed out landmarks in 
the moments before their arrests — was just another “smokescreen,” she 
said. “Orientation is a fancy word for giving people directions,” Wight 
argued. “It is an attempt to make legitimate what is actually illegal.” 
Similarly, she said, the word “context,” which Warren used in attempt to 
explain his role in No More Deaths, was just “another fancy word for 

The fact that Perez-Villanueva’s text messages showed that he planned to 
get to Phoenix the first night he made it to the U.S. — undercutting the 
idea of a plan to stay in Ajo — didn’t matter, Wright argued. “Travel 
plans change,” she said. “That doesn’t mean that there’s not a plan, not 
a conspiracy. It simply means that Kristian doesn’t know all the 
details. And that would make sense. Who’s the experts? Who’s been doing 
this awhile? Who’s been around people who’ve been crossing and have that 
information? Not Kristian. It’s the other people planning.”

As she brought her case to close, Wright returned to the selfies, 
encouraging the jurors to trust what they saw. “Looking with your own 
eyes, you can make your own assessment,” she said. “They are not 
injured. They were not sick. They were not resting and recuperating on 
their sick beds. They were taking their time getting to the place that 
they wanted to get to, with all the help they could possibly need from 
the defendant. They got food. They got water. They got shelter. They got 
directions. They had everything brought to the Barn that they could 
possibly need. Everything. For four days.”

“Coincidences don’t happen like this,” the prosecutor said. “This was a 
plan and under the law, a plan like this is a conspiracy.”

_As the jurors_ headed into deliberations, I headed to Warren’s 
attorneys’ office.

Kuykendall and his co-counsel, Amy Knight, are death penalty defense 
attorneys by trade. They took on Warren’s case pro bono, as a matter of 
principle. During their 16 months working on it, they had maintained a 
low media profile. Though Warren’s prosecution had precedent-setting 
potential, the charges he faced were low-level felonies compared to the 
capital crimes Kuykendall and Knight usually litigate. The attorneys 
kept up their death penalty defense posture nonetheless, hammering the 
prosecution with pretrial motions in an effort to force the government 
to truly prove its case — or back down.

“The Border Patrol’s not accustomed to trying cases,” Kuykendall said, 
as the lawyers settled in for lunch, waiting for the jury to return its 
verdict. In a system in which an agent’s investigative responsibility 
often boils down to proving a person lacks papers, and a right to 
attorney is not a given, “nobody goes to trial,” Kuykendall said. 
“Nobody fights back.”

While Kuykendall made most of the arguments in court, Knight was in many 
ways the tactician behind Warren’s defense. She had accepted early on 
that she wasn’t going to find an expert witness on migrant deaths in the 
Arizona desert who would not be perceived as being on Warren’s “side.” 
“There’s no such person,” she said. The U.S. government has maintained a 
multi-decade policy of channeling migrants into the deadliest areas of 
the desert, resulting in thousands of deaths, in order to deter others 
from coming. “Once you know this information, you can’t not be an advocate.”

“Their policy doesn’t work if it’s not deadly,” she added.

As Warren’s trial played out, Knight said, she was struck by the 
“shocking amount of power the federal government really has.” Here were 
two assistant U.S. attorneys interpreting a law in a new, and radically 
more aggressive, direction and getting institutional support from the 
Department of Justice to do so. Kuykendall agreed. The defense attorney 
said it wouldn’t surprise him if Warren’s prosecution cost the 
government upwards of $1 million. “How you could not believe that 
Scott’s primary intention in life is to alleviate suffering, I don’t 
understand,” he said, adding that it was an interpretation of the facts 
that made him “aware of what a polarized universe we live in.”

    Here were two assistant U.S. attorneys interpreting a law in a new,
    and radically more aggressive, direction and getting institutional
    support from the Department of Justice to do so.

“It’s like they came from Mars or something, and they have a completely 
different set of receptors,” Kuykendall said.

The day ended without a verdict. The weekend came and went. The 
following Monday morning, I found Susannah Brown mingling with No More 
Deaths volunteers outside the courthouse. Just a few days earlier, she 
had walked into the building and been blindsided by a federal prosecutor 
naming her as an unindicted co-conspirator in a felony conspiracy. She 
was clearly still processing. “I felt pretty good until Friday,” Brown 
told me with a laugh. “And then it was like, holy shit. I couldn’t 
believe what I was hearing.”

“It was like, this is preposterous, you’re crazy,” she said. The 
chilling part, she added, was that Wright was skillful at crafting a 
narrative that could sound compelling, “if you didn’t know what the 
facts were.”

“That was scary,” Brown said.

Brown was one of several Ajo residents I had come to know over the last 
year who saw Warren’s prosecution as a defining moment in their town’s 
recent history and a test of their own principles. At a community 
meeting earlier this year, I heard residents like her describe a proud 
history of providing aid to migrants in Ajo, and the fear and confusion 
they were feeling now. It was clear that Warren’s experience and actions 
were not unusual. The federal government’s posture was at odds with 
traditions that many people viewed as moral obligations. Some, like 
Brown, had built their lives around the fulfillment of those obligations 
and weren’t planning to change course now.

“We’re gonna carry on,” she told me. “We have to.”

_Late on the_ afternoon of June 10, a phone rang in Warren’s attorneys’ 
office: The court clerk was calling to say that the jury had delivered a 
note to Judge Raner Collins. The lawyers piled into a car and headed for 
the courthouse.

After 11 hours and 23 minutes of deliberations, Collins told the court, 
the jurors were “unable to reach consensus.” He ordered them to go back 
and try again. “Each of you must decide the case for yourself,” he said. 
“I’m going to ask you to retire again and continue deliberations.”

The following day, at 12:36 p.m., the phone rang again. Warren’s lawyers 
hustled back to court. An hour later, the jurors filed in. They were 
deadlocked. Collins asked if they all agreed that further deliberation 
would not result in a resolution. On that point, there was unanimity. It 
would not.

“I want to thank you for your time and your attention,” Collins told the 
jurors, and with that, they were dismissed. Collins filed a formal 
mistrial later that afternoon.

After their dismissal, the jurors invited Kuykendall and Wright in for a 
conversation. Eight of them believed that Warren was innocent on all 
counts, the lawyers learned, and four believed that he was guilty as 
charged. This did not appear to be a case of jury nullification, when 
jurors take a position against a certain type of prosecution or charge 
and refuse to convict regardless of the evidence. On the contrary, 
Kuykendall told me, it was a jury that started from a position of guilt 
and evolved as more evidence was presented.

“They were all very suspicious,” he said, and their deliberations 
appeared sincere.

Warren walked out of the courthouse to a crowd of friends and the press. 
Standing under the shade of a tree in a light gray suit, he thanked the 
people who had supported him and called attention to the fact that 
Perez-Villanueva and Sacaria-Goday had regrettably not received the same 
support. “Since my arrest in January 2018, at least 88 bodies were 
recovered from the Ajo corridor of the Arizona desert,” Warren told 
the crowd. “We know that’s a minimum number and that many more are out 
there and have not been found.”

“The government’s plan, in the midst of this humanitarian crisis?” he 
asked. “Policies to target undocumented people, refugees, and their 
families; prosecutions to criminalize humanitarian aid, kindness, and 

_Border Patrol agents_ recovered the body of 6-year-old Gurupreet Kaur 
the following day. She was found south of Ajo, on the Organ Pipe Cactus 
National Monument, where Warren and other area humanitarian groups have 
directed much of their work. Her cause of death was heat stroke. 
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, temperatures had 
reached a high of 108 degrees in the area where she was found. The 
second grader passed away while her mother, who came to the U.S. from 
India to seek asylum, was searching for water.

That afternoon, U.S. Attorney’s office issued a statement saying that it 
would make a determination as to whether to retry Warren’s case ahead of 
a July 2 hearing.

The knot of compounding disasters, tragedies, and outrages on the border 
seemed to somehow worsen in the days that followed, with fresh evidence 
of children held 
in horrifying conditions at immigration detention centers, the drowning 
of a father and daughter who attempted to cross the Rio Grande, and 
<https://theintercept.com/2019/07/05/border-patrol-facebook-group/> of a 
secret Border Patrol Facebook group that was a cesspool of rage and hate 
and boasted nearly 10,000 members, including the Border Patrol chief 

Nobody knew what to expect when Warren returned to court in early July. 
Would the U.S. Attorney’s office take the 8-to-4 split as a sign that 
their case was flawed and pack it up? Or, after all this time and 
effort, would they stay the course?

At 9:37 a.m. on July 2, Collins’s courtroom filled. Anna Wright, who 
just a few weeks earlier had passionately argued that Warren was the 
ringleader in a network of nonprofit human smugglers, informed the judge 
that the government was dropping its conspiracy charge. The U.S. 
Attorney’s office would continue to pursue the two harboring charges, 
Wright said, though Warren had the option to accept a plea deal, if he 
so desired.

The government had split the difference, abandoning a core component of 
its criminal narrative, while holding on to the possibility of still 
eking out a win down the line. Standing outside the court, under the 
same trees where he had addressed the media weeks before, Warren said in 
a statement that he and his attorneys were “ready for the second trial 
and more prepared than ever.” Though, he added, it remained “unclear 
what the point of all this effort, time, and money has been and now 
continues to be.”

“While I do not know what the government has hoped to accomplish here,” 
Warren said, “I do know what the effect of all this has been and will 
continue to be: a raising of public consciousness, a greater awareness 
of the humanitarian crisis in the borderlands, more volunteers who want 
to stand in solidarity with migrants, local residents stiffened in their 
resistance to border walls and the militarization of our communities, 
and a flood of water into the desert at a time when it is most needed.”

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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