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Mexican gets life sentence for death of U.S. Coast Guard officer: report

(Reuters) - A Mexican man convicted in the 2012 killing of a U.S. Coast Guard officer, the first on-duty death since 1927, was sentenced on Monday to life in federal prison without the possibility of parole, a newspaper reported.

A federal jury had convicted 42-year-old Jose Meija-Leyva, of Ensenada, of second-degree murder, among other charges, in the death of Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III, the U.S. Attorney's office said in February.

"The defendant had a choice to simply flee and attempt to evade capture, but chose to aggressively attempt to disable the Coast Guard small boat before making his getaway," prosecutors argued, according to the Los Angeles Times newspaper.

Another man, 44-year-old Manuel Beltran-Higuera was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison on lesser charges, the newspaper reported.

The U.S. Attorney's office was not immediately available to confirm the report.

Prosecutors sought the life term on the grounds of previous smuggling and drugs-related convictions in the United States and Mexico, the Times said, adding the men were believed to have been supplying gasoline to other smuggling boats.

Horne, 34, of Redondo Beach, was killed early on December 2 while investigating the roughly 30-foot-long open fishing vessel with two men on board - identified as Beltran-Higuera and Meija-Leyva - off Santa Cruz Island, the Times reported.

As Horne's boat approached the vessel the two men throttled the engines and steered into the officer's smaller, inflatable boat carrying four officers, the U.S. Attorney's office said.

Horne's head smacked a propeller as he and a fellow officer were thrown overboard and he later died. The other officer cut his knee.

The Coast Guard aircraft followed the fishing vessel, which sped away after the collision. It was intercepted about four hours later by a military vessel some 20 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.

Horne, who was posthumously given the higher rank of senior chief petty officer, was survived by his pregnant wife and two young sons, the Los Angeles Times reported.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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