Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Surprise witness who wasn’t a complete surprise

The afternoon session of the first-degree murder trial for Shawna Forde at Pima County Superior Court began on an acrimonious note.

Forde after her arrest.
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 prosecution had informed the defense, at the recess of court on Tuesday that they intended to call Arivaca resident Byron Easter as a witness on Wednesday. After the lunch recess, the state informed the defense that Easter was being withdrawn as a witness and that they were instead going to call Melinda Shelton, a former girlfriend of co-defendant Jason Bush.

Defense attorney Eric Larsen told Judge John S. Leonardo that most of the pretrial interviews with witnesses had taken place last summer and that Shelton could not be located. “She couldn’t be found,” he said.

It was left, last summer that if Shelton turned up the state would notify the defense. Apparently, Shelton turned up a couple of weeks ago. “They did bother to tell us,” Larsen said. “We’ve done nothing on her because she couldn’t be found.”

Deputy County Attorney Rick Unklesbay told the court that Larsen was mistaken. “They knew as of yesterday, that Melinda Shelton was testifying today,” he said.

Leonardo precluded testimony from Shelton until Thursday in order to allow a defense interview after court on Wednesday.

Medical examiner

Dr. David Winston
Dr. David Winston of the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office that Raul told the jury “Junior” Flores died of six gunshot wounds and that Brisenia Flores died of two gunshot wounds. A toxicology screen of Raul Flores blood showed metabolites of marijuana and oxycodone.

One of Raul’s six wounds was to his head while both of Brisenia’s wounds were to her head. One entered at her nose and exited the rear of her skull and the other entered her left cheek and exited behind her right ear. That wound showed burns around the edge that provided Winston with additional clues. “The barrel of the gun was up against her cheek when it was discharged,” Winston testified.

Sgt. Jill Murphy
After Winston, the state called Sgt. Jill Murphy of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department to the stand. Murphy was recently promoted to sergeant and is now assigned to uniformed patrol duties. At the time of the Flores home invasion, Murphy was assigned to the Homicide Unit and part of the investigative team for the double homicide.

Murphy was the lead investigator looking for evidence inside the Flores home. Murphy’s team photographed the bodies as they were found as well as expended shell casings and holes in furniture and walls. A number of these photos were showed to the jury.  A total of 15 .45 caliber shell casings were found as well as two .40 caliber shell casings. There were also a number of shotgun pellets and wadding retrieved from the refrigerator. A rifle was also found behind the front door of the home. Murphy also found three bundles of cash in the master bedroom.

Gaxiola a suspect

Following a June 1, 2009, interview with Gina Gonzalez at the hospital, murphy and other detectives went to the home of co-defendant Albert Gaxiola. Outside of the Gaxiola home were three vehicles including a blue Astro van. “I was able to see what appeared to be a blood smear on the outside,” Murphy said. I saw staining which to me appeared to be blood on the inside of the van.”

In a closet of the Gaxiola home were camouflaged fatigues with the name “Bush” on the right breast area. There was also a Department of Defense identification card in the name of Jason Bush.

Murphy also disclosed that a silver grinder was found in the kitchen containing the remenants of marijuana seeds.

Murphy was asked on cross-examination whether Gonzalez had mentioned a wig or the change of clothes on the female home invader during her June 1. Murphy confirmed that Gonzalez had not said anything.

Early contact

The final witness of the day was Det. Howard Anderson with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department. In May 2009, Anderson was a uniformed patrol deputy assigned to the Green Valley District, which included Arivaca.

Four days prior to the home invasion, Anderson was in Arivaca parked across the street from the Arivaca Mercantile observing the comings and goings of the local population. Anderson reported he observed a burnt orange Honda Element with license plates from Washington state pull up to the mercantile. A male and female went into the store and came out a short time later.

The Honda pulled up to Anderson’s patrol vehicle and a woman identifying herself as Shawna Forde introduced herself as working with a minuteman group. “She indicated they would be there throughout the summer,” he said.

Anderson identified a picture of Forde with blond hair but could not identify the defendant in the courtroom. He also could not identify a picture of Bush as the male in the vehicle, but said he looked similar to the picture.

Thursday’s lineup

Prosecution witnesses anticipated on Thursday include: Melinda Shelton, Chuck Stonex, Melanie Aranda (Forde’s sister), several detectives and possibly Oin Oakstar.

© David S. Ricker, all rights reserved