Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Alternate histories present an opportunity to think outside of the box

In the world of author Harry Turtledove there were actually four wars, instead of just one, fought between the United States of America and the Confederate States of America.
Harry Turtledove
The starting point for Turtledove’s alternate version of history is Sept. 10, 1862. In our reality, a Confederate messenger lost Special Order 191, which provided details for Gen. Robert E. Lee’s invasion plans. After the orders were intercepted by Union troops, Gen. George McClellan stopped the Army of Northern Virginia at the Battle of Antietam and the war continued for more than two more years.
In Turtledove’s “How Few Remain,” the orders are recovered and delivered to Lee. Thus, McClellan is caught by surprise by the Army of Northern Virginia as it advances towards Philadelphia and the Battle of Camp Hill on Oct. 1 on the banks of the Susquehanna River destroying the Army of the Potomac. Lee goes on to capture Philadelphia earning the Confederate States of America diplomatic recognition from both the United Kingdom and France. With the end of the War of Secession the Confederate States are granted independence from the United States on Nov. 4, 1862.
After the war’s conclusion, Kentucky joins the 11 original Confederate states, and the Confederacy is also given Indian Territory, which we would call the state of Oklahoma, but in Turtledove’s scenario it is referred to the state of Sequoyah. The Spanish-owned island of Cuba is purchased by the Confederate States in the 1870s for $3 million, thus also becoming a Confederate territory.
Also, President Abraham Lincoln is defeated in his bid for re-election in 1864 and thus is not assassinated at Ford’s Theater in April 1865.
In 1881, Republican James G. Blaine is elected as the first president from his political party since Lincoln. It is a time of Indian raids into the territory of each country. Tension reaches it’s high point when Confederate President James “Old Pete” Longstreet purchases the northwestern provinces of Sonora and Chihuahua from the financially strapped Maximilian-ruled Mexican Empire for $3 million. That act, giving the Confederates a Pacific port, Guaymas, precipitated what Turtledove called the Second Mexican War as the United States declares war on the Confederacy. Gen. Thomas J. Jackson, old “Stonewall,” general-in-chief of the Confederate Army, is ready and eager to strike at the Yankees once more. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart is in the Sonoran Desert defending the new Confederate territories from the Yankees. Stuart forms an alliance with the Apaches under Geronimo. Eventually, that alliance falls apart.
Meanwhile, Union cavalry Col. George Armstrong Custer uses Gatling guns against Kiowa Indians and the Confederate cavalry in Kansas. During the war, the Mormons in Utah rebel by severing transcontinental communication and transportation around Salt Lake City. Former President Lincoln is in Salt Lake City at the time of the rebellion as part of a nationwide lecture tour on the benefits of socialism as espoused by Karl Marx. The U.S. military governor, puts down the revolt, and imposes martial law declaring the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a political organization resulting in Mormon leaders being hunted down and executed. Lincoln is also detained and almost executed by the military.
The attempt by the United States to invade Virginia is easily thrown back by Gen. Stonewall Jackson. Gen. William Rosecrans, the commander of the entire U.S. army, casually reveals at one point that there is no overall strategy for winning the war whatsoever. This lack of planning leaves the German military observer, Alfred von Schlieffen, aghast.
The United States next attempts to launch a massive invasion of Louisville to knock the Confederates out of Kentucky but it soon becomes a bloody stalemate. The United Kingdom and France shell the Great Lakes ports; France also shells Los Angeles, while the British bombard San Francisco and raid the Federal mint, an event reported by newspaper editor Samuel Langhorne Clemens.
Meanwhile, in the Montana Territory a young volunteer cavalry colonel, Theodore Roosevelt and Col. George Armstrong Custer reluctantly work together to rout a British division under the command of Gen. Charles “Chinese” Gordon after an invasion from Canada.
Finally, facing defeat on almost all fronts, Republican President James G. Blaine is forced to capitulate. A Republican is never again elected to the White House. The United States, learning the importance of strong allies, seeks an alliance with the newly formed and powerful German Empire.
Turtledove’s next novel “The Great War: American Front” begins on June 28, 1914, the same day Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo.
World War I breaks out and spreads to North America, where the pro-German United States under Democratic President Theodore Roosevelt declares war on Confederate President Woodrow Wilson, which is allied with Great Britain and France.
The novel ends in the autumn of 1915, with the beginning of a Marxist black rebellion against the war-distracted government of the CSA.
Most of the characters in the books are small-time folks being caught up in the bigger world of a global war. One main character whose destiny will be intertwined with that of the twentieth century is an artillery sergeant named Jake Featherston.
This book is followed by “The Great War: Walk in Hell” and then “The Great War: Breakthroughs.” Eventually, the United States is victorious with territorial gains that include Kentucky, portions of Virginia and Sonora, as well as the oil-rich Indian lands known as the state of Sequoyah.
Jake Featherston’s immediate superior is Capt. J.E.B. Stuart III, who has a Negro servant who appears to sympathize with the Marxist black rebellion. Featherston points this out to investigators, but Stuart hides the servant and then he allows himself to be killed in battle. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart II, chief of the Confederate Army general staff, attempts to protect the reputation of his son by blocking the promotion of Featherston to officer rank for the duration of the war.
The next installment of Turtledove’s version of history is the three-book “American Empire” series.
Following the Great War, the United States and German Empire are the dominant world powers. Having led the U.S. to victory, President Theodore Roosevelt looses his third-term bid to the Socialist candidate Upton Sinclair.
Meanwhile, in a defeated Confederacy wracked by inflation and despair, the former Confederate Army sergeant Jake Featherston and his Freedom Party are preaching a message of hate, blaming the southern aristocracy and the Negro Marxist rebellion for the Confederacy’s defeat.
As the 1920s draw to a close the world economy crashes and the Great Depression begins, paving the way for fanatics and demagogues the world over to seize power.
The “American Empire” series is followed by the “Settling Accounts” tetralogy, which starts on June 22, 1941, with Confederate President Jake Featherston launching a war with aerial bombing attacks on all major U.S. cities within reach of the border, followed by an invasion of Ohio from Kentucky, which is cut in half by Confederate ground and armored forces led by Confederate Gen. George S. Patton.
Before the war began Featherston had launched a campaign of genocide against the country’s black population. One can see parallels with the genocide of the Jews in our timeline. Meanwhile, the Mormon population of Utah rebels against the United States with support from the CSA, and proclaims the state of Deseret, forcing the United States to send troops to try to put down the uprising. And, Japan attacks the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), sinking a U.S. carrier and threatening to capture the islands, and taking Midway Island, resulting in fierce naval and air battles.
Both sides launch air raids on enemy cities, and Confederate aircraft manage to kill Socialist U.S. President Al Smith during a raid on Philadelphia, forcing the inexperienced Vice-President Charlie LaFollette to take office
Later in the war, both sides are desperately seeking a nuclear bomb, and the Confederates try to stall the U.S. nuclear program by bombing the U.S. nuclear project site in Washington, to which the U.S. replies by bombing the Confederate nuclear research site in Virginia.
The U.S. demands the CSA’s unconditional surrender: the Confederates refuse and fire two long-range rockets into Philadelphia. With British aid, the Confederacy produces a fission bomb and “nukes” the outskirts of Philadelphia. The U.S. responds by dropping nuclear bombs on Newport News and Charleston. Nuclear bombs also destroy six cities in Europe, Petrograd, Paris, Hamburg, London, Brighton, and Norwich.
Texas declares independence from the Confederacy and arrests extermination camp officials. Featherston attempts to escape to the deep South, but his plane is shot down, and he is killed by an anti-Confederate guerrilla.
Confederate Vice President Don Partridge then takes office, and agrees to unconditionally surrender to the United States. Top Confederate officials are arrested, tried, and most of them are executed. The Confederates involved in the murder of blacks are also extradited from Texas, tried for crimes against humanity, and hanged.
The U.S. dissolves the Confederate government and places the country under indefinite military occupation. The revolt in Canada is also suppressed, and Texas remains independent but hosts U.S. troops on its soil.
These series of books show that Turtledove is the virtual master of alternate reality. He inserts familiar names from our reality to see if the reader is paying attention. The plot he weaves is so real you find yourself believing it rather than what 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Brisenia Flores is at eternal rest while two of her three killers face an uncertain future

Raul & Brisenia
Undocumented persons who enter the United States illegally have raised concerns among certain elements of the population in recent times. Ironically, it was the brutal murder of a 9-year-old Hispanic American born and raised in the rural southern Arizona community of Arivaca by persons affiliated with an anti-immigration splinter group that momentarily struck a raw nerve in our society.

Home invasion

During an early morning invasion of the home Raul “Junior” Flores and Gina Gonzalez, staged by Shawna Forde, founder of Minuteman American Defense, Jason Bush, a white supremacist and reputed local drug dealer Albert Gaxiola, the lives of Junior and his daughter, Brisenia, were snuffed out when they were brutally shot and killed and Gina was severely wound by two gunshots

If not for the desire to attend a birthday party in Arivaca for another young Hispanic American on May 30, 2009, Brisenia might still be with us. Otherwise, Brisenia might have stayed the night of May 29-30 with her maternal grandparents in the Santo Tomas area of the town of Sahuarita and avoided a brutal murder, as did her older sister Alexandra, who had also been invited to the same birthday party, but decided not to attend.

Gina Gonzalez
Brisenia and her parents, Junior and Gina, had traveled the 40-plus miles from Arivaca to Tucson the afternoon of May 29, 2009, to shop and to pay bills. Gina testified during the three trials for Forde, Bush and Gaxiola, that Brisenia was going to attend summer school in the Sahuarita Unified School District, thus she needed new shoes. They had also hoped to stop by a bank in order to procure a money order to pay charges recently placed on a credit card for a vacation trip the family had taken. Brisenia got her new shoes, but the banks were closed by the time they arrived in Tucson, so the bill went unpaid.

On the way home to Arivaca, the Flores family stopped at the home of Gina’s mother and father in Santo Tomas. Alexandra and Gina’s younger sister, Diana, were expected to return to Arivaca that night, but Alexandra persuaded her parents to allow her to stay another night at her grandparents and Diana was not feeling well and decided not to make the trip. Those decisions possibly saved their lives, as the death toll could have been five instead of two.

What brought together an Hispanic family of born-and-bread American citizens and a the leader of a splinter border-watch group from the state of Washington, a white supremacist from Oregon and a reputed drug dealer from Arivaca? It’s simple, greed and financial gain.

Cast of characters

Shawna Forde had come to the Arizona/Mexico border to participate in efforts to stem illegal immigration from Mexico after failed careers as a teenage prostitute, a manufacturing job at Boeing Aircraft and an unsuccessful election attempt to become a member of the Everett, Wash., city council.

Jason Bush had come to southern Arizona after being “recruited” by Forde. Forde thought she had found Bush, but there are indications that he sought her out hoping to gain sought favorable capital with federal law enforcement agencies looking into Forde’s activities on the border. Bush is a self-proclaimed white supremacist who masqueraded as a former army ranger and black ops secret agent with the self-proclaimed nickname of “Gunny” a shorthand referral to the rank of gunnery sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Albert Gaxiola as not born or raised in Arivaca, but had lived on-and-off in that southern Arizona community since his late teens drawn by the easy money of drug smuggling introduced to him by his mother and grandfather. Gaxiola and Forde reportedly met one night in the local watering hole, La Gitana Cantina where trial testimony indicated that Forde had picked a cigarette from Gaxiola’s lips and crushed it on the floor demonstrating to him that she was a person with a plan that would benefit him and her.

Albert Gaxiola
(pool photo by Benjie
Sanders/Arizona Daily Star)

After Forde was kicked out of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps she founded Minuteman American Defense (MAD). It’s one thing to found an organization and it’s another thing to generate the funding to pay for that organization’s activities. That’s where her encounter with Gaxiola at the bar provided her with a plan that she hoped would provide the funds for her organization.

Sheriff Clarence W.
Forde learned from Gaxiola that he was one of the local drug smugglers who had perceived competition in the person of Junior Flores. Early in the investigation of the fatal home invasion, Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik told media representatives that Flores was “a large dealer” who likely had connections to large Mexican drug cartels and that Flores “has a history of being involved in narcotics.” Dupnik provided no tangible evidence other than his comments to back up those claims and a search of local court records yielded no indication of previous arrests, prosecutions or convictions on drug-related charges for Flores. When asked during the Forde trial Gina denied that her husband was a drug dealer. Detectives, however, found plastic wrapping materials commonly used for packaging marijuana in a barn on the Flores family property. Arivaca residents who testified during all three trials said it was common knowledge that Junior was a drug dealer. It would appear that while Junior was not convicted in a court of law, he had been judged to be guilty in the court of public opinion in the community of Arivaca.

Oin Oakstar
(pool photo by Benjie
Sanders/Arizona Daily

Gaxiola and his drug-smuggling partner, Oin Oakstar, looked upon Junior Flores as their competition, pure and simple. Oakstar testified at all three trials that both he and Gaxiola schemed for several months about ways to eliminate, a polite word of kill, Flores thus removing him as their competition in the marijuana smuggling business. However, Oakstar testified that the killing of Flores and his daughter during the May 30, 2009, home invasion were a breach of the so-called “Arivaca Rules.” Those rules, according to Oakstar, were that the killing of a rival drug dealer was a cost of doing business. At the same time, according to Oakstar the “Arivaca Rules” specify that the rival drug dealer’s wife and children are off-limits.

Forde tried to recruit help in her get rich scheme from some fellow “minutemen” in Colorado. They turned out to be informants for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who testified at her trial. These informants met with Forde and she told them that she had a “scout” in Arivaca looking at potential targets where money and drugs could be easily taken. Forde also told the FBI informants that she wanted to start her own organization on a model similar to the private military-style security firm known as Blackwater and that the funding would come from taking down drug smugglers in southern Arizona. They told her they would consider her proposal, privately chuckling about it later. These informants contacted their handlers in Denver who contacted the FBI Office in Phoenix. They even supplied the FBI with a map of potential targets in Arivaca. That map disappeared from the FBI evidence locker in Phoenix and at last report had been destroyed.

Plans set in motion

Fast-forward to the afternoon of May 29, 2009. Gina and Brisenia are in the front yard of their home looking for a missing set of keys. A teal-colored Astro van drives by very slowly with Bush behind the wheel and Forde in the front passenger seat. What Gina did not know until later was that the van belonged to Gaxiola and Oakstar was crouched down behind Forde and Bush guiding them as they scoped out the Flores home.

Later that night, Gaxiola returned to Arivaca from Tucson and stopped by the home where Oakstar was staying with his girlfriend. Oakstar convinced Gaxiola that he was too drunk and full of drugs to go along on the operation to take out Junior Flores. Oakstar testified that he and Gaxiola had discussed killing Junior by sniper. Given the activities earlier in the day, Oakstar suspected there would be a different approach to killing Junior. Sometime between 12:30 and 1 a.m., Forde and Bush banged on the front door of the Flores home demanding entrance in the guise of law enforcement officers searching for escapees.


Once inside the Flores home, Junior, Gina and Brisenia were confronted in the living room. Junior was the first to be killed as Bush shot him six times with a .45 caliber handgun that has never been found. Gina was shot twice, first in the right leg breaking the femur and then in the right chest as she is falling to the ground. That bullet exited under her right breast. Gina had a titanium rod inserted in her femur from the hip to the knee.

Up until that point, Brisenia had been asleep on the love seat in the living room and she started to wake up as her mother pretended to be dead on the floor. Bush questioned Brisenia as to the whereabouts of her sister Alexandra pointing to Gina asking if she was her sister. Brisenia becomes upset when she realized that her mother and father appeared to be dead. Bush reloaded his .45 caliber handgun and shoots Brisenia twice in the face. Bush claimed Gaxiola gave him the handgun he used to kill Junior and his daughter and that he did so as Forde and Gaxiola pointed their weapons at him.

While pretending to be dead, Gina heard her daughter killed, the last sounds of her husband’s life ending and the search of her home. Gina heard two additional males enter her home speaking in Spanish. Later, she recognized one of the voices as that of Gaxiola. The fourth person she heard in her home has never been identified or charged.


After searching for drugs and money, but not finding any, the Fore, Bush, Gaxiola and the unidentified male leave the Flores home. Gina manages to get up and check on the condition of Brisenia and she called 9-1-1 on her phone. Despite her leg wound, Gina made her way to the kitchen and retrieved a .40 caliber handgun kept there by Junior. The home invaders reentered the Flores home when they realized that an AK-47 rifle had been left behind. Such a rifle with DNA from Gaxiola, Forde and Bush was found on the stove in the kitchen of the Flores home. A gunfight ensued between Gina and Bush with Bush sustaining a gunshot wound to his leg. His blood was found outside of the Flores home and in the teal blue van.

Chuck Stonex
The morning of May 30, 2009, Oakstar was asked to take pain medication to Gaxiola’s home for Bush. Detectives arrested Oakstar as he walked back to where he was staying in Arivaca. Forde contacted another minuteman crony from New Mexico who was in Arizona to attend a cookout in Hereford. She asked Chuck Stonex to purchase some medical supplies and to come to Arivaca to attend to Bush’s leg wound.

Laine Lawless attempted to
enter the courtroom in
disguise despite being a
On the evening of May 30, Stonex and Laine Lawless, founder of Border Guardians, traveled to Arivaca to attend to Bush’s gunshot wound and for Lawless to meet Forde. Stonex testified that he met Lawless for the first time at the cookout in Hereford. In Arivaca, Stonex treated the Bush leg wound and Lawless agreed to take a set of keys for Forde’s car to Gaxiola in Tucson. The next day, Gaxiola drove Forde’s car to Arivaca and Forde and Bush went to Tucson where they spent the night in a motel after Stonex joined them for dinner. Within the next couple of weeks, Forde was arrested in Cochise County. Bush was arrested outside of Kingman and Gaxiola was taken into custody in Tucson.


Forde was the first defendant tried before Judge John S. Leonardo in Pima County Superior Court. She was convicted on all eight counts including the two counts of first-degree murder. The jury sentenced her to death on both murder counts and Leonardo sentenced her to an additional 65 years in prison on the other six counts. The death penalty convictions and sentences were automatically appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court.

Bush was the next defendant to be tried. He was convicted on all eight counts including the two counts of first-degree murder. The jury sentenced him to death on both murder counts and Leonardo sentenced him to an additional 78 years in prison on the other six counts. The death penalty convictions and sentences were automatically appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court.

Judge John S. Leonardo
Gaxiola was the third and final defendant to be tried. He was convicted on all eight counts including the two counts of first-degree murder. The jury sentenced him to life in prison for the murder of Junior Flores, but was unable to decide the appropriate sentence for the murder of Brisenia. The prosecution could have asked the court for a new jury to be empaneled to hear evidence regarding the appropriate penalty, however the prosecution decided to withdraw its notice to seek the death penalty allowing Leonardo to sentence Gaxiola on the two murder convictions as well as the other six counts. For the murder of Brisenia Flores, Gaxiola was sentenced to natural life in prison. For the murder of Raul Flores he was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of applying for parole after serving 25 calendars years. On the remaining six counts, Gaxiola received 54 years in prison to be served consecutively to the sentences in the two murder counts.

Gaxiola sentenced natural life in prison

Albert Gaxiola
(pool photo by Mamta
Daily Star)

Pima County Superior Court Judge John S. Leonardo sentenced former Arivaca resident Albert Robert Gaxiola, Monday morning, to natural life in the Arizona Department of Corrections for the May 30, 2009, murder of 9-year-old Brisenia Flores during a home invasion in Arivaca.

In addition, Gaxiola was sentenced to life in prison with the opportunity to apply for parole after serving 25 calendar years for the murder of Raul “Junior” Flores, Brisenia’s father.

On July 1, a Pima County Superior Court jury returned guilty verdicts against Gaxiola, 44, on two counts of first-degree murder as well as six other counts. On July 15, during the penalty phase of the trial the jury sentenced Gaxiola, who was facing the death penalty, to life in prison for the first-degree murder of Raul Flores, but was unable to reach a verdict on the sentence for the murder of Brisenia Flores. The prosecution opted to withdraw the death request regarding the murder of Brisenia Flores after consulting with the surviving victim, Gina Gonzalez.

Prior to pronouncing sentence, Leonardo was asked by Deputy County Attorney Rick Unklesbay to impose natural life sentences for both murder convictions. “By case law, the court doesn’t need any aggravating factors,” he said. “The court may chose between natural life and or life with parole based on the facts that you heard at the trial.”

Defense counsel Jack L. Lansdale argued for life in prison with the possibility of parole and concurrent sentences for all of the charges. “In reality, when we’re dealing with this much time and a gentleman who was 42-years-old when he was taken into custody what we’re talking about may be academic,” he said. Lansdale calculated that the best-case scenario would allow his client to apply for parole after he had turned 77-years-old.

Sentences imposed Monday:
·       Count 1—first-degree murder—natural life in prison, no parole opportunity.
·       Count 2—first-degree murder—life in prison, with the opportunity to apply for parole after serving 25 calendar years.
·       Count 3—burglary in the first degree—10.5 years.
·       Count 4—attempted first-degree murder—10.5 years.
·       Count 5—aggravated assault, serious physical injury—7.5 years.
·       Count 6—aggravated assault with a deadly weapon—7.5 years.
·       Count 7—armed robbery—10.5 years.
·       Count 8—aggravated robbery—7.5 years.

The sentences for counts two through eight will be served consecutively to each other and to the sentence of natural life in prison received for count one. Depending upon how you choose to add it up the sentences for counts three through eight add up to an additional 54 years in prison. If you add the possibility of applying for parole after 25 years as the sentence in count two allows then Gaxiola received an additional 79 years in prison on top of the sentence to life in prison.

After the sentencing hearing Lansdale said there were plans for an appeal, but he was uncertain if he would handle it or another attorney would handle it. “I’d like to do it because we’re so familiar with the case,” he said.

Lansdale said the sentences Gaxiola received were what he had anticipated. “In the trial phase we hoped to raise a reasonable doubt, but we didn’t do that,” he said. “So, it was avoid the death penalty. What’s really the difference between 35 to life and natural life? He would get out when he’s 80-years-old.”

Gaxiola’s sister, Sonia Muniz flew in from California to attend the sentencing hearing. “I am relieved that Albert’s not on death row,” she said. “I will be with him to the end of this. I know he is innocent. He didn’t kill anyone.”

Gonzalez and members of her family had submitted letters containing sentencing recommendations to Leonardo prior to the hearing. The judge, who noted that the letters were “confidential,” denied a request for copies of those letters.

Previously, codefendant Shawna Forde received sentences of death on the two murder charges and an additional 65 years in prison for the other charges. Codefendant Jason Bush received two death sentences for the murder charges plus an additional 78 years in prison on the other charges.

At sentencing for Forde and Bush, Leonardo ordered $11,864 in restitution to Gonzalez and to her mother for funeral expenses and other costs. The amount of restitution had grown to over $13,000 as of Monday’s hearing. Leonardo gave the attorneys 30 days to work out the discrepancy.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Gaxiola no longer faces the death penalty for the murder of Brisenia Flores

Brisenia Flores
Former Arivaca resident Albert Robert Gaxiola no longer faces the death penalty in connection with the May 30, 2009, murder of 9-year-old Brisenia Flores during a home invasion that saw her father killed and mother seriously wounded.

On July 15, a Pima County Superior Court jury sentenced Gaxiola, 44, to life in prison for the shooting death of Raul “Junior” Flores. The jury was unable to reach a decision regarding the appropriate punishment in the death of Brisenia.

Judge John S. Leonardo granted the motion withdrawing the death notice during a hearing Friday morning. Deputy County Attorney Rick Unklesbay told Leonardo that the Homicide Panel in the county attorney’s office had reviewed the pros and cons of continuing to seek the death penalty and that he and Deputy County Attorney Kellie Johnson had spoken with surviving victim Gina Gonzalez as to her preference. “It’s important for Mr. Gaxiola to know that Ms. Gonzalez was in agreement to withdraw this notice,” he said.

On July 1, Gaxiola, 44, was found guilty on two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Flores and his daughter, as well as six other charges including attempted first-degree murder in connection with the wounding of surviving victim Gina Gonzalez.

A sentencing hearing on all eight counts is scheduled for Aug. 15 at 10:30 a.m. Now that the death request has been withdrawn Leonardo will have the option of sentencing Gaxiola to natural life in prison or life in prison with an opportunity to apply for a parole hearing after he has served 35 calendar years in prison. The 35-year threshold applies in Brisenia’s case because she was younger than 15-years-old.

In regards to the murder of Raul Flores, Leonardo could sentence Gaxiola to natural life in prison or with an opportunity to apply for a parole hearing after he has served 25 calendar years. Earlier this year, co-defendants Shawna Forde and Jason Eugene Bush were each sentenced to death by juries on the murder counts involving Raul and Brisenia Flores and they received additional prison time, Forde 65 years and Bush 78 years, for their convictions on the other six counts. Leonardo will have the option to hand down similar sentences to Gaxiola on Aug. 15.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Gaxiola given life in prison for the murder of Raul Flores, no verdict on murder of Brisenia Flores

Albert Gaxiola
(pool photo by Mamta
Popat/Arizona Daily

   Relief was the expression found on the faces of former Arivaca resident Albert Robert Gaxiola and members of his defense team on Friday afternoon as a Pima County Superior Court jury sentenced him to life in prison for the May 30, 2009, shooting death of Arivaca resident Raul “Junior” Flores. The jury was unable to reach a decision regarding the appropriate punishment in the death of 9-year-old Brisenia Flores. 


   The jury of seven males and five females took a little over 11 hours before returning their verdicts to a surprised audience of onlookers in the courtroom of Judge John S. Leonardo. “I’m relieved,” said defense counsel Steven D. West, immediately following the reading of the verdict.

West said Gaxiola had similar feelings. “I think he was greatly relieved,” West said.

West was unable to pinpoint what evidence the defense had presented that led the jury to the verdict of life in prison. “I’m sure the family emotion, I would think, had some effect on them,” he said, referring to the numerous members of Gaxiola’s family who testified during the sentencing phase of the trial. “They sincerely appeared like they cared about Albert greatly.”

Obviously, West and his client were prepared for a death sentence. “I think we all did. I wasn’t inside Albert’s head, but I’m sure that he was,” he said.

Gaxiola’s sister, Sonia Muniz who testified during the penalty phase of the trial was at home in California when she heard news if the verdict. “As we understand it right now, we’re happy with the outcome,” she said. “This isn’t the end of the world and there’s still more to come. We haven’t exhaled completely.”

Muniz agreed with west that it was Gaxiola’s family that made a difference in the outcome. “During the mitigation phase we were able to paint his character and the jury was able to see that,” she said.

West admitted he is not an expert when guessing what juries will do, but the verdict they returned with the hung jury of the murder conviction involving Brisenia was surprising. “I would have never guessed the combination of things,” he said.

What now

Raul and Brisenia
On July 1, Gaxiola, 44, was found guilty on two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Flores and his daughter, as well as six other charges including attempted first-degree murder in connection with the wounding of surviving victim Gina Gonzalez. Asked if she had any thoughts on the verdict and a lack of a verdict Gonzalez declined. “No, I’m not interested,” she said, as she quickly left the courtroom.

Gonzalez, however, will be talking with Deputy County Attorneys Rick Unklesbay and Kellie Johnson in the near future to provide input regarding the jury’s inability to decide the penalty for the murder of her daughter, Brisenia. “We’re going to talk to her,” Unklesbay said.

The prosecutors will also consult colleagues regarding whether or not to withdraw their request for the death penalty. “We do a panel on all murder cases,” Unklesbay explained. “We’ll talk to everybody concerned and make a decision.”

West was unwilling to speculate as to how the prosecution will proceed. “That’s strictly up to them and I’d rather not comment,” he said.

Decision time

A hearing on whether the death request will be withdrawn on the count involving the murder of Brisenia is set for July 29 at 10 a.m. If the death request is withdrawn then Leonardo will have the option of sentencing Gaxiola to natural life or whether he will have an opportunity to apply for a parole hearing after he has served 35 calendar years in prison. The 35-year threshold applies in Brisenia’s case because she was younger than 15-years-old.

A sentencing hearing has been set for Aug. 15 at 10:30 a.m. on the other six counts for which Gaxiola was convicted, as well as the murder count for which he will receive life in prison. It is up to Leonardo to determine if Gaxiola will be sentenced to natural life or whether he will have an opportunity to apply for a parole hearing after he has served 25 calendar years in prison.

No new neighbors

Already on death row in this case is co-defendant Shawna Forde, 43, the founder of the splinter group Minuteman American Defense. Testimony from prosecution witnesses in her trial earlier this year painted Forde as a wannabe black ops leader who proposed to finance her Blackwater-type operations by raiding suspected drug cartel operations in and around Arivaca in southern Arizona. Testimony showed that Forde intended to take the drugs, guns and money found during those raids to finance her continuing operations. Flores was their first target. Besides two death sentences, Forde was sentenced to 65 years in prison on the six other counts.

Also on death row in this case is co-defendant Jason Eugene Bush, 34, director of field operations for Minuteman American Defense, who during a post-arrest interview told detectives that it was his understanding that no one at the Flores home would be harmed. Bush also told detectives that he and Forde had entered the Flores home first because Gaxiola was concerned that he would be recognized. And, Bush told detectives that he was told their mission was to rip off marijuana and money owned by Raul Flores. Besides the two death sentences, Bush was given and additional 78 years in prison regarding the six other counts.

Gaxiola’s role
Testimony in this trial showed that Gaxiola, a longtime drug smuggler in the Arivaca area, was an intelligence resource for Forde and Bush who were seeking drugs and money to fund her minuteman operations and to provide living expenses. At the same time, the death of Flores eliminated competition in local drug smuggling activities for Gaxiola and his longtime business partner, Oin Oakstar. In exchange for a favorable plea agreement, Oakstar testified for the prosecution in all three trials.

Of the three defendants, Gaxiola was the only one that chose to make a statement either through testimony or in the form of allocution. The statement by Gaxiola was unsworn and not subject to cross-examination. “Flores Family. Gonzalez Family. There’s nothing that I can do or say that can relieve the pain and suffering from the loss of a loving husband or the loss of a precious daughter. All I can say is that I am truly sorry.”