Tucson, Arizona (CNN)A federal judge Tuesday declared a mistrial in the closely watched case of a humanitarian aid worker charged with three felonies for helping a pair of undocumented migrants who authorities said entered the United States illegally.
No verdict in controversial border aid case
After three days of deliberations, jurors told US District Court Judge Raner Collins that they were unable to reach a verdict against aid worker Scott Warren, who was charged with one count of conspiracy to transport and two of "harboring illegal aliens." Jurors were split 8-4 in favor of acquittal on all three charges, said Warren's attorney, Greg Kuykendall.
Warren, who volunteered for the group No More Deaths, faced up to 20 years in prison.
After the mistrial was declared, Warren told reporters that the work he and others do along the border to help migrants must continue.
"Since my arrest in January 2018, at least 88 bodies were recovered from the Ajo corridor of the Arizona desert. We know that's a minimum number and many more are out there and have not been found," said Warren, adding that "it remains as necessary as ever for local residents and humanitarian aid volunteers to stand in solidarity with migrants and refugees."
"It's not the best outcome for us, but we'll take it," said the defendant's father, Mark Warren, who attended the trial.
Prosecutors accused Scott Warren of hiding two men for several days in January 2018 at a property called The Barn, at one edge of the town of Ajo, 40 miles north of the US-Mexico border. No More Deaths is one of several humanitarian aid groups that use The Barn as a staging area for search-and-rescue operations and for the placement of water and food along migrant trails.
Through May of this year, the Pima County Medical Examiner reported finding the remains of 58 presumed border crossers in the deserts of Southern Arizona, bringing the total reported over the past two decades to roughly 3,000.
During his initial instructions to the jury, Collins pointedly said this case was "not a referendum on immigration policy."
And prosecutor Nate Walters insisted the case shouldn't be seen as a judgment of humanitarian assistance to migrants in general: "No More Deaths is not on trial," Walters said in his opening statement. "Scott Warren is."
But even the basic terms each side used -- "illegal aliens" vs. "undocumented migrants" -- reflected a divide. Over a week, the larger political context for Warren's actions proved inescapable.
Assistant US Attorney Anna Wright argued that, in Warren's alleged conspiracy, "one goal was to thwart the Border Patrol at every possible turn."
Defense attorney Greg Kuykendall told jurors that "there is no evidence in this case that Scott intended to violate the law. The evidence is the opposite" -- that Warren simply wanted to prevent deaths.