Jury weighs case against Arizona rancher in migrant killing


PHOENIX (AP) — A jury in southern Arizona was ordered to resume deliberation Friday in the trial of a rancher charged with fatally shooting an unarmed migrant on his property near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Jurors received the case Thursday afternoon after a nearly one-month trial in a presidential election year that has drawn widespread interest in border security. George Alan Kelly, 75, is charged with second-degree murder in the January 30, 2023, shooting of Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea.

The Santa Cruz County Superior Court did not immediately confirm whether the jury took the case back up at 8:30 a.m. as instructed by Judge Thomas Fink.

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.

Some on the political right have supported the rancher as anti-migrant rhetoric and presidential campaigning heat up.

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

Kelly said he fired warning shots in the air, but he didn’t shoot directly at anyone.

Jette said Kelly fired nine shots toward the group.

The prosecutor 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. A second-degree murder conviction would bring a minimum prison sentence of 10 years.

Defense attorney Brenna Larkin urged jurors to find Kelly not guilty, saying in her closing argument that Kelly “was in a life or death situation.”

“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.”

No one else in the group was injured, and they all made it back to Mexico.

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

Kelly was also charged with aggravated assault. He earlier rejected a deal that would have reduced the charge to one count of negligent homicide if he pleaded guilty.

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