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Trial Starts for Arizona Border Rancher Charged With Killing Illegal Immigrant on His Property

George Alan Kelly listens to the prosecution during opening arguments in his trial at Santa Cruz County Superior Court in Nogales, Ariz., on March 22, 2024. (Angela Gervasi/Nogales International via AP, Pool)

3/22/2024 Updated: 3/24/2024

from: The Epoch Times

LKY: the prosecution of this man is disgusting. I can't help thinking "what would I have done?"

PHOENIX—An Arizona rancher went on trial Friday in the fatal shooting of an illegal immigrant on his property near Mexico, with his defense attorney maintaining his innocence as the national debate over border security heats up ahead of this year’s presidential election.

George Alan Kelly, 75, has been charged with second-degree murder in the killing of a man he encountered on his property outside Nogales, Arizona. The jury trial in Santa Cruz County Superior Court is expected to last up to a month until around April 19, with proceedings held four days a week with Mondays off.

Mr. Kelly had earlier rejected a plea deal that would have reduced the charge to one count of negligent homicide if he pleaded guilty. His case has garnered the sympathy of some on the political right, with several efforts raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for his defense, including several on the GoFundMe platform that were quickly shut down because of the charges against him.

He was arrested and charged last year in the Jan. 30, 2023, fatal shooting of 48-year-old Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea of adjacent Nogales, Mexico, just south of the border.

Mr. Kelly shot at a group of illegal immigrants who were walking through his nearly 170-acre (69-hectare) cattle ranch in the Kino Springs area, and Cuen-Buitimea was among them, authorities said.

Mr. Kelly’s defense attorney Brenna Larkin said the investigation that led to her client’s arrest and the subsequent charges against him was biased and incomplete, with investigators browbeating, not listening to and changing Mr. Kelly’s words.

Ms. Larkin has maintained that Kelly shot into the air above the illegal immigrants because he feared for his safety and that of his wife and his property. Ms. Larkin testified Friday that groups of illegal immigrants crossing through Kelly’s property grew more menacing over the years, including drug and human smugglers, prompting him to arm himself constantly for protection.

Ms. Larkin said Mr. Kelly was preparing a late lunch in his kitchen on the day of the shooting when he noticed five men traversing his ranch with large backpacks and rifles, then heard a single shot fired.

“He knows something is happening outside. Something violent, something dangerous,” she said. “There are armed criminals on his property. Maybe another shot is going to be fired, maybe it’s going to be fired at him.”

Prosecutors have said Mr. Kelly recklessly fired a rifle toward the illegal immigrants, who were about 100 yards away from him.

“I want you to consider Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea as a human being, and not as George Kelly described him—an animal,” Santa Cruz County Chief Deputy Attorney Kim Hunley told jurors Friday.

Mr. Kelly is also charged with aggravated assault that day against another person in the group of about eight people, including Daniel Ramirez, a Honduran who was living in Mexico and is scheduled to testify during the trial. The prosecutor said Mr. Ramirez had gone into the United States that day seeking work and watched as Cuen-Buitimea was shot, announced he had been hit, then died in front of him.

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