Homeland Security pilot pleads not guilty in border drowning case

Posted Feb. 15, 2011, at 8:41 p.m.

HOUSTON — A Department of Homeland Security helicopter pilot stationed in Maine has pleaded not guilty to allegations that he lied to investigators about his role in the 2005 drowning of a would-be illegal immigrant in South Texas, a plea his attorney said Tuesday would speak for itself.

James Peters, 41, is facing four counts of making false statements to investigators looking into the drowning death of Carlos Delgadillo Martinez.

Prosecutors say Peters lied about a Dec. 14, 2005, incident near a border bridge in Laredo, Texas, accusing him of flying his helicopter low in an attempt to force Delgadillo and another person back to Mexico.

Investigators say the force of the air turbulence from the low-flying helicopter’s rotor made Delgadillo lose his grip on the inner tube.

Peters’ attorney, Thomas Berg, appeared in court Tuesday on behalf of the pilot, who stayed in Maine, where he is stationed. Berg said Peters, 41, had entered his pleas through a court filing last week and did not have to be at the hearing.

“We will let the jury and not the newspapers decide whether or not he is innocent,” Berg said when asked about the charges.

Peters was indicted last month, but the indictment wasn’t unsealed until Feb. 1.

“The charges don’t address the context of the discussions he had [with investigators] and that is what the jury trial is for,” Berg said.

Peters’ trial was set for March 7, but Berg said he expects it will be delayed.

If convicted, Peters faces up to five years in prison. He has worked for Homeland Security since 1997, becoming a helicopter pilot in 2003.

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