NATIONAL NEWS

Trial of a southern Arizona rancher charged in fatal shooting of unarmed migrant goes to the jury

Apr 17, 2024, 9:17 PM | Updated: Apr 18, 2024, 5:28 pm

NOGALES, Ariz. (AP) — The trial of a southern Arizona rancher charged with fatally shooting an unarmed migrant on his property near the U.S.-Mexico border went to the jury Thursday.

Jurors did not immediately reach a verdict and will resume deliberations Friday morning.

In closing arguments earlier Thursday, lawyers debated the actions of 75-year-old George Alan Kelly, who is accused of second-degree murder in the January 30, 2023, shooting of Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea.

Cuen-Buitimea, 48, lived just south of the border in Nogales, Mexico. Court records show Cuen-Buitimea had previously entered the U.S. illegally several times and was deported, most recently in 2016

The case has attracted national attention as border security continues to be a top issue this election year and garnered sympathy for the rancher from some on the political right.

Cuen-Buitimea was in a group of men that Kelly encountered on his property. Prosecutor Mike Jette said Kelly recklessly fired an AK-47 rifle toward the group that was about 100 yards (90 meters) away.

Kelly said he fired warning shots in the air, but he didn’t shoot directly at anyone, explaining that he feared for his safety and that of his wife and property.

“He says he shot 100 yards over their heads. But he never told law enforcement that he was in fear of his life,” Jette said in closing arguments.

Kelly fired nine shots toward the group, according to Jette, who said Cuen-Buitimea suffered three broken ribs and a severed aorta.

Jette encouraged jurors to find Kelly guilty of reckless manslaughter or negligent homicide if they can’t convict him on the murder charge.

Defense attorney Brenna Larkin, in her closing argument, said Kelly “was in a life or death situation” that was “a terrifying scenario” for him.

“He was confronted with a threat right outside his home,” Larkin said. “He would have been absolutely justified to use deadly force, but he did not.”

She urged jurors to return a “not guilty” verdict, saying the state didn’t prove its case.

The other migrants on Kelly’s ranch in 2023 weren’t injured and managed to escape back to Mexico.

Larkin has characterized groups of migrants crossing through Kelly’s property as an increasing concern over the years, prompting him to arm himself for protection.

The trial that started March 22 included jurors visiting Kelly’s nearly 170-acre (69-hectare) cattle ranch in Nogales, Arizona.

Earlier in proceedings, Kelly rejected an agreement with prosecutors that would have reduced the charge to one count of negligent homicide if he pleaded guilty.

Kelly was also charged with aggravated assault against another person in the group of about eight people, including a man from Honduras who was living in Mexico and who testified during the trial that he was seeking work in the U.S. that day.

___

This story has been corrected to show that Kelly fired nine shots toward a group that included Cuen-Buitimea, according to the prosecution, not that Cuen-Buitimea was shot nine times.

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