Hung Jury Results in Mistrial in Trial of Arizona Rancher Charged With Killing Illegal Immigrant

An Arizona jury has deadlocked, triggering a mistrial in the case of an Arizona rancher for the murder of an illegal immigrant shot while trespassing. George Alan Kelly, 75, of Santa Cruz County, AZ, is charged with second-degree murder in the January 30, 2023, shooting of Mexican national Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea. The jury began deliberations Thursday, but by Monday, it was clear no verdict was forthcoming. “Based upon the jury’s inability to reach a verdict on any count,” Superior Court Judge Thomas Fink said, “this case is in mistrial.”

Kelly had become increasingly fearful for the safety of himself and his family as large groups of illegal immigrants used his ranch as a thoroughfare from the border and their destination. US Border Patrol agents had frequently warned him of gangs carrying drugs across his 170-acre ranch. On the day in question, Kelly says he saw a group of men with weapons and backpacks on his property and fired nine warning shots from an AK-47. One of the shots allegedly struck Cuen-Buitimea. Cuen-Buitimea was no stranger to illegal border crossings; he had previously entered the US illegally several times and was deported, most recently in 2016.

The case was an obvious political hot potato, and the county attorney, Democrat George Silva, quickly indicted Kelly for one count of second-degree murder and one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Kelly pleaded not guilty and turned down a proffered plea bargain that would have had him plead guilty to a single count of negligent homicide. (At 75, Kelly probably saw any prison sentence as a life sentence and decided to roll the dice.)

BACKGROUND: Arizona Man on Trial for Shooting Illegal Immigrant Walking Through His Property 

There were immense problems with the prosecution’s case. There was no proof that Kelly fired the shot that killed Cuen-Buitimea, as no bullet was found. There was no evidence of the time of death. The only witness in the case, another illegal, gave contradictory stories about what happened, which hinted that he may not have been at the scene

Ramirez, the man who was traveling with Buitimea and escaped after being shot at, was the key witness in the prosecutors’ case against Kelly.
[Defense attorney Brenna ] Larkin contended Ramirez’s testimony had inconsistencies, including where the shooting took place and where the pair were in relation to the border.
“It means he wasn’t there. It means he is telling a story … you can’t be there and get it this wrong. It is not possible,” Larkin said.

More troubling is police conduct.

Larkin contended the investigation into the case was biased, important details were missed, and law enforcement changed Kelly’s testimony. She also said testimony was recorded incorrectly and noted how many of the interviews and phone calls were not recorded.
“Confirmation bias is a big thing that runs through this case,” Larkin said.
Many mistakes were made during the investigation, she said, and one involved a call with the Sheriff’s Office dispatcher after Kelly found Buitimea’s body.
During this phone call, the dispatcher told Kelly he previously said he shot someone, but Kelly said he never made that statement.

 As an indicator of how this jury was heading, the prosecutor was reduced to begging them to convict Kelly of something.

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

For defense attorney Larkn’s part, when the jury informed the judge it was deadlocked, she asked the judge to make them keep deliberating.

A hearing is scheduled for April 29 to determine if Kelly is retried for protecting himself and his property.

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