US Senator Cory Booker wanted to reduce the federal prison population and cure what he perceived as injustices, so he sponsored legislation known as the First Step Act and worked to convince President Donald Trump to sign it.
As a result, convicted bank robber Francisco Herrera-Genao, a New Jersey convict who has been imprisoned since 2007, could be a free man in as little as four years even though his crimes led to the death of an FBI agent.
FBI Special Agent Barry Lee Bush was fatally shot by another agent in the chaos of a PNC Bank robbery in Readington, New Jersey, on April 5, 2007, that turned into a confrontation with law enforcement for Herrera-Genao and his three accomplices.
Bush, a 52-year-old married father of two, was the first FBI agent killed in the line of duty in New Jersey.
A jury convicted Herrera-Genao and accomplices Efrain Lynn and Wilfredo Berrios on counts including conspiracy, armed bank robbery, and weapons offenses in late 2008. The fourth man, getaway driver Michael Cruz, pleaded guilty and cooperated with authorities.
Trial testimony revealed that Herrera-Genao brandished and fired his gun at four robberies, including one where he fired into a glass partition, sending glass fragments into a teller’s face.
FBI agents intercepted Herrera-Genao and his accomplices when they arrived at the PNC Bank robbery in Readington, where they planned to commit a fifth robbery.
None of the four bandits was charged with Bush’s death, but U.S. District Judge Anne Thompson tacked on four consecutive 25-year sentences and one 10-year sentence when she pronounced judgment on Herrera-Genao for using a firearm during the robberies.
Nine years later, Trump and Booker ended the practice called ‘sentence stacking’ by changing the law so the 25-year mandatory consecutive sentences could only be triggered by a conviction in a previous case, rather than by multiple convictions in the same case.
Herrera-Genao is being held in the United States Penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, a medium-security prison with an adjacent minimum security satellite camp.
The law does not allow that provision to be applied to cases that occurred before the act was passed. In reducing his sentence, Thompson sidestepped that by considering the length of Herrera-Genao’s sentence as an “extraordinary and compelling factor” in his application for compassionate release, along with his rehabilitation in prison and his age at the time of the crimes.
Herrera-Genao was only 22 when the robbery occurred that led to Bush’s accidental shooting and death.
In a letter to the judge, his sister said sister writes that Herrera-Genao, “went in [to prison] a hot-headed, impulsive, and reckless 22-year-old boy and has blossomed into a respectful, kind, and peaceful 36-year-old man.”
The U.S. attorney’s office in Newark filed an immediate appeal from the judge’s ruling that will be heard by a federal appeals court in Philadelphia.
The Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI called the judge’s decision to reduce the sentence “astounding” in a letter that offered a rebuttal to each of the “extraordinary and compelling reasons” described in the order to reduce his sentence.
“Special Agent Barry Lee Bush was shot and killed on April 5, 2007, in Readington, New Jersey, while working a criminal investigation into a series of armed bank robberies in central New Jersey,” says the FBI on the agency’s Wall of Honor.
“He and his team were in pursuit of heavily-armed serial bank robbers who were believed to have been responsible for four bank robberies. The suspects had allegedly fired their assault weapons inside two of the banks. Special Agent Bush was killed during the attempt to arrest these suspects.”
Bush joined the FBI in 1987 and served in Kansas City before transferring to Newark in 1991.
To honor his memory, the Newark FBI Field Division renamed its building after him in April 2008.
“As the head of Newark’s Evidence Response Team, he was called to major crime scenes across the country and the globe,” said FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, III, who spoke at a 2007 memorial service. “He was among the best at piecing together the crime, gathering evidence, and building a strong case.”
An internal investigation by the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility determined on April 24, 2008, that the actions of the unidentified agent who shot Bush fell within rules governing the use of deadly force.