Thursday, January 27, 2011

Jason Bush: The army veteran who really isn’t

The defense in the first-degree murder trial for Minuteman American Defense leader Shawna Forde succeed Thursday is getting two prosecution witnesses to confirm that co-defendant Jason Bush portrayed himself as a veteran of the U.S. Army. In reality he never served in the military that anyone has been able to determine.

Forde, 43, is charged with two counts of first-degree felony murder in the deaths of Raul “Junior” Flores and his daughter, Brisenia, 9, as well as the attempted first-degree murder of Gina Marie Gonzalez; 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. If convicted on the two first-degree murder charges, Forde faces the possibility of the death penalty.

The surprise witness

The first witness to testify Thursday to the jury of two males and 14 females was Wednesday’s “surprise” witness, Melinda Shelton. She recently took back her maiden name of Williams following a divorce.

Jason Bush
In the weeks leading up to the May 30, 2009, home invasion in Arivaca Bush and Williams had been living together in the community of Meadville near Kingman. They had met at work at the Grand Canyon Skywalk where Williams was a sales supervisor and Bush performed maintenance at the tourist attraction. Williams admitted under cross-examination by defense attorney Eric Larsen that she had left her husband for Bush because she had fallen “head-over-heels” in love.

Under direct examination, Williams told Deputy County Attorney Rick Unklesbay that Bush talked often about prior military service. “He said he had been in the military, secret service,” she said.

Bush was terminated from his job at the Skywalk early in 2009 because he was wanted on a probation violation. “He said he was re-enlisting,” she said. “I came home from work one night and he said he was leaving today. He said somebody was going to pick him up.”

The person who picked Bush up was the defendant the last week in May 2009. “It was around 11 o’clock that night,” she testified. “Jason said this is Shawna.” Williams had never met her before that night.

Williams described Forde as blond, sort of chunky and blue eyes. “They are as blue as mine,” she said.

Forde and Bush drove off after a tearful farewell in a burnt orange Honda Element with license plates from Washington state. Bush returned to Meadville, un-expectantly in the early morning hours of June 10, 2009. “I heard a knock on the door,” Williams testified. “He said he received a ride and they had turned the lights off so as not to wake me up.”

Soon after his arrival home, Williams knew things were not right. “He had a bullet hole in his leg,” she testified.  

While Bush was away, he and Williams had kept in touch via cellphones. They shared a calling plan. The other thing Bush shared with her was debt as a result of bills for a trip to Idaho to retrieve some of his belongings. “Some fraudulent money orders had been deposited in my bank account,” she said.

The medic

Chuck Stonex
The other witness who testified about Bush’s alleged military ties was Minuteman Charles “Chuck” Stonex, a retired contractor who lives in New Mexico. Stonex and Forde had become acquainted during a border watch operation near Three Points in October 2008. Following that operation Stonex and Forde had maintained constant contact via cellphone and text messages.

On May 30, 2009, Stonex was attending a cookout near Hereford when Forde seeking his assistance contacted him. “She called me about 8 a.m.,” Stonex testified. “She told me they had been near Douglas the night before and one of her guys took a hit. She said it was Gunny.”

Stonex suggested they seek medical attention at a hospital, but Forde said that was not a practical option, as Bush didn’t have funds to cover the cost. Forde encouraged Stonex to attend the picnic and then head to Arivaca, which he did around 6 p.m. It was at that picnic that Stonex first met Laine Lawless, who went on to become a Forde supporter. “She gave me the impression she would like to meet her,” he testified.

Lawless followed Stonex to Arivaca where they met Forde in a teal minivan at the Arivaca Mercantile. “We went to a little house (co-defender Albert Gaxiola’s) where they found Jason Bush,” Stonex testified. “I knew him as Gunny.”

As they entered the house Shawna “called out some kind of a password.” Stonex cleaned the wound that was an “inch wide, and two inches long.” “I compare it to a 10 year-old doing a crash and burn at home plate,” Stonex suggested. “Shawna said the hardest part was to get the bleeding stopped.”

Stonex said they had been jumped by a group of border bandits. “Bush said it was one of the fastest guns he had ever heard,” he testified. “He said he was kneeling behind a Bush and caught a ricochet. She kind of collaborated (sic) his story.”

Lawless noticed a broken military flashlight and banana-style ammunition clip that Bush said “saved my ass as they had taken bullets.”

Forde chimed in that they should see Bush in camouflage including his face. “You ought to see how scary he is with his face blacked out,” Stonex recalled Forde saying.


The morning of May 31, television news reported the home invasion in Arivaca. Stonex sent a text message or email to Forde suggesting that the Minutemen send flowers to the victims. That text went unanswered. “Minutemen get a bad rap. I thought is would be a good show,” he said.

Stonex testified that he met with Forde and Bush later on May 31 at a motel near I-19 and Ajo Way. They talked a while and Stonex found that Forde had secured a prescription for Bush. Also, bush showed him “his souvenir” a .40 caliber hollow-point bullet from his leg wound.

After dinner they talked about engaging in border watch activities. “They said there were two beds in their room and that I was welcome to use one of them,” he said.

As an army veteran, Stonex was asked about his impressions of Bush’s military skills. “He was extremely convincing,” he said.

Stonex said he asked Bush about his Marine Corp nickname “Gunny” since he said he was an army veteran. “He said it sounded more prestigious,” Stonex testified.

Finally, Stonex confirmed that many of the times he had called Forde’s cellphone that Bush had answered and that he had observed Bush answering her phone when he tended to his wounds in Arivaca.

Friday’s star witness

Witnesses on Friday will be mostly law enforcement officer and technicians with the exception of Oin Oakstar, an Arivaca resident who was a rival of Raul Flores and reportedly helped plan the home invasion, but did not participate in the crime. Oakstar will likely be the first or second witness as court starts at 9 a.m.

© David S. Ricker, all rights reserved