Johnny Sutton

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Johnny Sutton
Johnny Sutton as United States Attorney
United States Attorney for the Western District of Texas
In office
Succeeded byRobert L. Pitman
Personal details
Born1960 (age 62–63)
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Alma materUniversity of Texas
Known forUnited States Attorney

Johnny Sutton (born 1960) is an attorney who served as United States Attorney for the Western District of Texas from 2001 until 2009, and chaired the Attorney General's Advisory Committee of United States Attorneys. Sutton is known for the prosecution of United States Border Patrol agents Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos. He is currently a partner with the law firm Ashcroft Sutton Reyes, LLC in Austin, Texas.

Background and education[edit]

Sutton grew up in Houston, Texas. He is the grandson[1] of World Series-winning St. Louis Cardinals manager Johnny Keane.[2] Sutton is a fluent speaker of Spanish.[1]

Sutton graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor's degree in International Business in 1983 and then earned a Juris Doctor degree at the University of Texas School of Law in 1987.

Longhorns baseball[edit]

Sutton attended UT on a baseball scholarship and played for the Texas Longhorns,[3] where he was a two-year letterman under coach Cliff Gustafson.[4] His teammates at UT included future Major League pitchers Roger Clemens and Calvin Schiraldi.[5] Sutton spent three years as a backup second baseman,[1] with just 50 at-bats in his career prior to the 1983 playoffs. On a hunch,[6] Gustafson put Sutton in the post-season line-up as a left fielder; Sutton hit .454 in the six-game tournament[2] and was named regional MVP as the Longhorns went on to win the College World Series.[6] The 1983 team finished with a 66-14 record.[5]

In various interviews, Gustafson has named Sutton his all-time favorite player.[7] "He sparked us to a regional win and continued to spark us through the national championship," Gustafson said in 1994. "Clemens and Schiraldi got all the hype, but Sutton was the key to the national championship run."[8]

Recently, Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman, when asked who is most underrated University of Texas athlete ever, responded, "I would say A.J. Abrams in hoops, Robert Brewer maybe in football, Johnny Sutton in baseball."[9]

Public service[edit]

Harris County[edit]

From 1988 to 1995[10] Sutton served as a criminal trial prosecutor in the Harris County District Attorney's Office in Houston, where he tried more than 60 first chair felony jury trials. In 1994, Sutton obtained the death penalty against Raul Villareal in the rape and murder of two teenage girls, Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Pena. Four other death penalty verdicts were rendered in the case.[11]

Bush administration[edit]

In 1995, Sutton accepted a position as criminal justice policy director for then-Governor George W. Bush, providing analysis and recommendations for proposed criminal justice laws for Bush to support or veto.[1]

Upon Bush's election as president in 2000, Sutton became coordinator for the Bush-Cheney transition team assigned to the Department of Justice where he served as associate deputy attorney general, initially advising on U.S.-Mexico border issues.

United States Attorney[edit]

On October 25, 2001, Bush nominated Sutton for U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas, one of the nation's busiest criminal dockets, known for its high percentage of drug and immigration crimes and covering 68 counties including Austin, San Antonio, El Paso and 660 miles of border. Sutton returned to Austin, where he oversaw a staff of 140 lawyers and a changing mission. Traditionally focused on border-related crimes, the U.S. Attorney's office increasingly focused on fighting terrorism.[1]

As U.S. attorney, Sutton prosecuted more than 400 prison gang members, including 19 members of the Texas Syndicate in 2004, and more than 100 public officials, including former Texas Attorney General Dan Morales in 2003 on mail and tax fraud charges. Sutton also supported the buildup of federal resources, from 9,000 to 20,000 border patrol agents, on the Mexico border, and pushed for prosecution of illegal immigrants previously deported, instead of just those who had committed a serious felony.[12]

Sutton was appointed vice chair of the Attorney General's Advisory Committee of United States Attorneys on May 27, 2005.[10] On March 28, 2006, Gonzales elevated Sutton to chair of the committee.[13] In this role, Sutton frequently traveled to Washington to advise the Department of Justice on border-related issues and testify before Congress.[12]

John E. Murphy succeeded Sutton in an acting capacity until the nomination and confirmation of Robert L. Pitman.[14]

Prosecution of Compean and Ramos[edit]

Sutton is perhaps best known for his prosecution of former Border Patrol agents Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos for misconduct[12][15] following the shooting and wounding of Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila, a narcotics smuggler who had illegally crossed the Mexico border near Fabens, Texas. Compean and Ramos were convicted of assault with serious bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon, discharge of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence and a civil rights charge, in addition to obstruction of justice charges.[16] In October 2006 they were sentenced to twelve years and eleven years and one day, respectively.[17]

Sutton drew criticism from some politicians and anti-illegal-immigration activists, especially on talk radio and the Internet.[15] CNN anchor Lou Dobbs devoted more than one hundred broadcast segments to the case.[18] Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, asked in 2007 whether Sutton's job was in danger over controversy associated with the case, said "No."[19] Sutton told the Texas Monthly, "All people have heard is that two American heroes are in prison for doing their job and that a drug dealer has been set free. If those were the facts, I'd be furious too. But the evidence is overwhelming that these guys committed a very serious crime."[18] On January 19, 2009, President Bush commuted the sentences of both Compean and Ramos, effectively ending their prison term on March 20, 2009.[20]

"House of Death" case[edit]

According to The Observer (UK), in August 2003 the U.S. Department of Justice was informed that a paid informant for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had participated in murders carried out by a drug cartel in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, operating out of a condo in Juárez where a dozen people were tortured, killed, and buried in the backyard. The informant was, at the time, cooperating in an ongoing cigarette-smuggling investigation. As Sutton was U.S. Attorney for West Texas, this information passed through his office to Deputy Assistant Attorney General John G. Malcolm. The DoJ decided to allow ICE to continue working with the informant rather than act on the information about the murders. Eventually, Mexican police uncovered and raided the house, and exhumed the bodies. This was not the first narco-cemetery to be discovered in Mexico, but due to the number of bodies (and the controversy surrounding ICE knowledge of cartel operations), the event became publicized and known as the "House of Death" case. Sutton later filed an indictment against a cartel lieutenant, Heriberto Santillan-Tabares, for drug trafficking and five murders, though the murder charges were later cancelled by Sutton in a plea bargain.[21] Sutton was criticized afterward by some observers, including University of Texas-El Paso law professor Bill Weaver, for not taking action to shut down the operation earlier and recommending the DoJ refrain from commenting to the media about the case. On April 19, 2006, Sutton announced a plea bargain arrangement with Santillan including a 25-year jail sentence, with no murder charge or plea included.[22] Furthermore, Sutton was criticized by former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney for approaching journalist Bill Conroy in an alleged attempt to dissuade him from covering the story: McKinney admonished Sutton for "an attempt ... to intimidate a journalist who has reported facts that are embarrassing to him".[23]

Other casework[edit]

In addition to Morales, Sutton's notable cases included prosecution of two San Antonio city council members and two lawyers on charges involved in a bribery scheme related to a city contract, obtaining convictions in 2005.[24] Other widely covered prosecutions included an El Paso counterfeiting ring,[25] a Permian Basin heroin and cocaine operation,[26] the leader of an Austin-based illegal immigrant smuggling organization,[27] and Kickapoo tribal leaders accused of embezzling $900,000 in casino and health-care revenues for personal and political use.[28]

On October 8, 2018, the University of Texas at Austin confirmed the university had hired Sutton to investigate claims that Texas State Senator Charles Schwertner sent lewd messages and pictures to a graduate student at the university.[29]

The Ashcroft Firm[edit]

Sutton resigned as the U.S. Attorney effective April 19, 2009.[15] He announced on April 24, 2009, that he had joined the Austin, Texas office The Ashcroft Firm,[30] chaired by former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, to be known in Texas as Ashcroft Sutton Ratcliffe, LLC. Sutton's focus at The Ashcroft Group is corporate representation and compliance, strategic planning and risk management.[31]


  1. ^ a b c d e David Hafetz (1 July 2002). "Crime fighter returns to court; Prosecutor who left to work for George W. Bush is U.S. attorney". Austin American-Statesman.
  2. ^ a b Kirk Bohls; Bill Martin; Ralph Barrera (3 April 1994). "Tracing the path of a remarkable coaching career". Austin American-Statesman.
  3. ^ "Texas Baseball History: Jersey Numbers". CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on 11 June 2011. Retrieved 3 March 2010.
  4. ^ "From Disch-Falk to the courtroom". CBS Interactive. 26 June 2004. Archived from the original on 11 June 2011. Retrieved 4 March 2010.
  5. ^ a b John Dawson (September 2001). "Where are they Now?". Texas Monthly.
  6. ^ a b Chris Perkins (23 April 1994). "King of Diamonds; For UT's Cliff Gustafson, winning is a broken record". Dallas Morning News.
  7. ^ Bill Sullivan (April 1985). "Who Makes The Longhorns Unbeatable?". Texas Sportsworld.
  8. ^ Neal Farmer (4 March 1994). "Gustafson partial to surprise players". Houston Chronicle.
  9. ^ Kirk Bohls (19 May 2013). Austin American-Statesman. {{cite news}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  10. ^ a b "Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales Names Paul McNulty and Johnny Sutton to Lead Attorney General's Advisory Committee of U.S. Attorneys" (Press release). Department of Justice. 27 May 2005.
  11. ^ Jennifer Liebrum (12 October 1994). "Heated exchange outside court; 'You belong in hell,' convicted killers told". The Houston Chronicle.
  12. ^ a b c Steven Kreytak (14 April 2009). "Outgoing U.S. attorney wants to be 'conservative voice of reason'". Austin American-Statesman.
  13. ^ "Johnny Sutton Appointed by AG Alberto Gonzales" (Press release). United States Department of Justice. 28 March 2006. Archived from the original on 28 July 2011. Retrieved 3 March 2010.
  14. ^ Aldridge, James (October 3, 2011). "U.S. Attorney sworn in to serve Western District". San Antonio Business Journal. Retrieved October 7, 2022.
  15. ^ a b c Steven Kreytak (9 April 2009). "U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton resigns". Austin American-Statesman.
  16. ^ "Two U.S. Border Patrol Agents Convicted of Assault Charges" (PDF) (Press release). U.S. Department of Justice. 8 March 2006. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 November 2009. Retrieved 3 March 2010.
  17. ^ Gilot, Louis (20 October 2006). "Sentence handed to border agents; free until Jan. 17". El Paso Times. Archived from the original on 2 November 2006. Retrieved 14 December 2006.
  18. ^ a b Pamela Colloff (September 2007). "Badges of Dishonor" (PDF). Texas Monthly. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-05-31.
  19. ^ Guillermo Contreras (4 March 2007). "Prosecutor stands in political storm". San Antonio Express-News.[permanent dead link]
  20. ^ Deb Riechmann (19 January 2009). "Bush commutes sentences of former US border agents". Associated Press. Retrieved 31 March 2018.
  21. ^
  22. ^ David Rose (3 December 2006). "The House of Death". The Observer. Retrieved 3 March 2010.
  23. ^ "Letter of Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney". Archived from the original on 2005-11-25. Retrieved 2007-12-06.
  24. ^ "Four sentenced in City Hall bribery case". Associated press. 30 March 2005.
  25. ^ Tammy Fonce-Olivas (23 January 2004). "Counterfeit ring broken up". El Paso Times.
  26. ^ "Fifteen indicted in Permian Basin based heroin, cocaine operation". States News Service. 19 February 2004.
  27. ^ "Leader of Austin-Based Alien-Smuggling Organization Sentenced to 8 Years in Prison". States News Service. 2 November 2005.
  28. ^ John W. Gonzalez (10 December 2004). "Grand jury indicts six in Indian casino case; Latest suspects in embezzling include a state representative". Houston Chronicle.
  29. ^ Walsh, Sean (October 8, 2018). "Confirmed: University of Texas investigating if Sen. Charles Schwertner sent lewd image". Austin American-Statesman. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
  30. ^ "Johnny Sutton".
  31. ^ Guillermo Contreras (23 April 2009). "Ex-prosecutor joins Ashcroft law firm". San Antonio Express-News.

External links[edit]