Woman Sentenced in Immigrant Smuggling Attempt

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A woman convicted of leading the nation's deadliest smuggling attempt has been sentenced to more than 17 years in prison.

Karla Patricia Chavez Joya sobbed yesterday in a Houston court and asked for forgiveness.

She was convicted in a May 2003 smuggling operation that left 19 immigrants dead. Prosecutors contended she shared most of the responsibility for ushering 74 people into a sealed tractor-trailer in Harlingen, Texas.

Authorities have said the temperature reached 173 degrees inside the trailer. Survivors say the immigrants took off their sweat-drenched clothes and crowded around holes in the truck for air.

Chavez fled to Honduras after the discovery of the bodies. She was arrested after crossing into Guatemala.

Prosecutors had asked the judge to impose a life sentence.