Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The first of three death penalty trials set to start this week

In the early morning hours of May 30, 2009, the tranquilly of the Arivaca household of Raul “Junior” Flores was disrupted by a loud, forceful knock at the front door.

The events that transpired after that fateful knock at the door will be the subject of a trial before Judge John S. Leonardo at Pima County Superior Court. A 17-page jury questionnaire for 225 prospective jurors was administered on Jan. 5 and jury selection is set to continue in the courtroom on Jan. 11. It could take a few days before a jury is selected to hear testimony in the case.

Shawna Forde

Shawna Forde
Shawna Forde, 43, is one of three defendants facing the death penalty in connection with the shooting deaths of Flores and his daughter, Brisenia, 9. “They told us that somebody had escaped jail or something and they wanted to come in and look at my house,” said a distraught Gina Marie Gonzalez, through tears during a 9-1-1 call. “We were asking, ‘What’s going on?” and they were saying, ‘You don’t have the right to ask questions right now and we need to check your house.’”

Brisenia and Raul Flores
While her husband, Raul, and daughter, Brisenia, suffered head wounds, Gina Gonzalez, who suffered a leg wound, was exchanging gunfire with the intruders who were dressed in camouflage. About 10 gunshots can be heard during a minute-long gunfight on the edited, 19-minute 9-1-1 call. “Get the (expletive) out of here,” Gonzalez yelled at one point during the call. In a ruling on Dec. 20, Judge Leonardo granted a motion allowing for the 9-1-1 recording to be played at trial. He did limit the prosecution or anyone else from identifying one of the voices on the recording as belonging to Forde.

At a court hearing on Jan. 4, Gonzalez was called to testify at a Dessureault hearing, a motion to determine whether or not the identification procedures used by the detectives investigating the shootings were unduly suggestive. If the court finds that they were, then those procedures used to prove identification cannot be admitted as evidence at trial. If the court finds that they were suggestive, then it has to find that the “in court” identification or “out of court” identification, or both, were such that the defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Victim identification

Gina Gonzalez
Gonzalez testified, Jan. 4, regarding her opportunity to view the intruders at the time of the shootings. She was also asked to recall a hearing in September when Forde made an appearance in court. Until then, Forde had waived her court appearances at hearings in the case.

According to a court spokesman, Gonzalez testified that Forde resembled the female intruder that had led the intruders that killed her husband and daughter, as well as wounding her, but she could not say for certain that the intruder in her home and Forde were the same person.

According to the court spokesman, the parties were willing to stipulate as to what other witnesses would testify about regarding Forde’s appearance around the time of the offense. The court also rejected the request to have a defense expert testify telephonically at the Jan. 4 hearing about the fallibility of witness identifications over time. Judge Leonardo took the Dessureault motion under advisement and as of deadline had not ruled.

One of the shots fired by Gonzalez wounded one of the intruders, later identified as Jason Eugene Bush, 36, a co-defendant of Forde. Bush’s trial had originally been set for Oct. 21, but is now scheduled for later in the spring.

Forde also faces charges of one count of attempted first-degree murder; one count of burglary in the first-degree; one count of aggravated assault, serious physical injury; one count of aggravated assault, deadly weapon/dangerous instrument; one count of armed robbery; and one count of aggravated armed robbery.

Minutemen American Defense

Jason Bush
Authorities have identified Forde and Bush as the head and the operations director of a group called Minutemen American Defense. A report from the Daily Herald in Everett, Wash., quoted the birth mother of Forde as saying her daughter had told her that she planned to be involved in home invasions as a part of her grou
p’s activities.

“She sat here and said that she was going to start a group where they went down and start taking things away from the Mexican mafia,” Rena Caudle said from her Redding Calif., home. “She was going to kick in their doors and take away the money and drugs.”

Caudle has been listed as a potential witness by the prosecution, however they informed Forde’s defense team recently that they were uncertain if she would be called to testify. Forde’s defense counsel, Eric A. Larsen, stated that they could call her as a witness, as well.

Adding credence to Caudle’s assertions are documents from the FBI that indicate that Forde’s group was planning a home invasion weeks before it actually took place. According to the documents, two confidential informants told FBI agents in April 2009 that Forde had been recruiting people for the purpose of raiding a house that she believed contained illicit drugs, money and weapons.

Clarence W. Dupnik
Early in the investigation, Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik identified Flores as “a large dealer” who likely had connections to large Mexican drug cartels and “has a history of being involved in narcotics.”

Drug smuggler

In a June 13, 2009, article in the Green Valley News it was reported that most Arivaca residents suspected that Flores had been smuggling drugs. Despite his “flaws,” Flores was known to be a good father with daughters, who were “never dirty, always clean, well-dressed, polite, sweet little girls.”

Albert Gaxiola
According to investigators, the third suspect, Albert Robert Gaxiola, 43, had no apparent ties to Minutemen American Defense, but had a long-standing dispute with Flores over “storing marijuana on their property.” Gaxiola is scheduled for trial at the conclusion of Forde’s trial.

Also questioned in connection with the investigation was Oin Glenn Oakstar who entered into a plea agreement on the charge of possession of a deadly weapon by a prohibited possessor. In exchange for the plea, Oakstar agreed to testify in the trials against Forde, Gaxiola and Bush. Oakstar received a sentence of three years on intensive probation. In November, Oakstar was back in court on a petition to revoke his probation for using methamphetamine and not following his preapproved schedule.

During a disposition hearing on Jan. 3 regarding a petition to revoke conditions of probation, Judge Jane Eikleberry placed Oakstar back on intensive probation supervision and order that he spend time in residential treatment for drug abuse whenever a bed became available.

Forde supporter

During her incarceration, Forde has had a number of vocal supporters, including a woman using the pseudonym Laine Lawless. Lawless has a pair of websites devoted to Forde’s cause and has written a book “Blonde on the Border.”

On Dec. 13, Forde’s defense counsel Eric A. Larsen moved the court to relieve him of his responsibilities to defend Forde, a move that would have postponed her trial. Larsen was reacting to a complaint filed with the State Bar of Arizona by Lawless who asserted that Forde had lost faith in her representation by Larsen and co-counsel Jill E. Thorpe. Judge Leonardo delaying ruling on the motion until Dec. 20 so that he could question Forde.

After the Lawless complaint had been filed with the bar her had submitted an affidavit from Forde denying the allegations leveled in the Lawless complaint. Lawless responded to the affidavit by stating she was familiar with Forde’s signature and that the signature on the affidavit did not appear to be hers.

On Dec. 20, Leonardo questioned Forde and was assured that she had no knowledge of the Lawless complaint prior to it being filed. She also assured Leonardo that she had full confidence in the representation she had been provided by both Larsen and Thorpe.

 © David S. Ricker, all rights reserved