For the first time we and the jurors heard from the lone survivor in the Arivaca home invasion on May 30, 2009.
As I wrote for the Jan. 26 edition of the Green Valley News and its affiliates: The first-degree murder trial for Minuteman American Defense leader Shawna Forde in connection with the May 30, 2009, Arivaca home invasion began Tuesday morning with the prosecution painting a picture of events that the defense said didn’t really happen as they have been portrayed.
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.
In her opening statement, Deputy County Attorney Kellie Johnson told the jury of two men and 14 women that it was shortly before 1 a.m. on May 30, 2009, that Gina was asleep in the bedroom, her husband Raul was awake watching television and one of their two daughters, Brisenia, was asleep in the living room with her puppy because the dog was not allowed into her bedroom. The other daughter was on a sleepover at her grandmother’s home in Sahuarita.
Gina was awakened by Raul. “I think the police are here,” Johnson said Raul had told his wife. While Gina dressed Raul went to the door where a short, stocky female with blond hair confronted him. Raul told the female he needed to get dressed before letting them in, but was told, “If you move from the door I will shoot you.”
Raul opened the door to the female and a tall male carrying a long gun. “Raul started to ask the two about identification and badges when the tall male said ‘Don’t take this personally’ before he shot Raul. At that point, Gina was shot in the leg and the chest. Gina pretended to be unconscious when she heard additional people enter her home. “People started rummaging through the house,” Johnson said.
Then Gina heard the female declare: “There’s nothing here. We’ve hit the wrong house.”
|Brisenia and Raul Flores|
Brisenia then awoke and started asking the camouflaged home invaders about her mother and father who lay on the floor with gunshot wounds. “Gina hears the sound she feared the most gunshots,” Johnson told the jury.
At that point, the home invaders had gone outside the home and Gina managed to get to the phone to summon help via 9-1-1. “The female comes back in the house,” Johnson said. “She turns and says to the others you left her alive.”
While Gina was talking to the 9-1-1 operator she managed to locate one of Raul’s handguns and a firefight ensued between her and the tall male who was wounded. Johnson told the jury they would hear that 9-1-1 call and the gunshots between Gina and her attackers.
Johnson said that due to the remote location of the Flores home in Arivaca that it took forever for emergency responders to reach the scene. Johnson said that Raul was shot a number of times and Brisenia was shot twice in the head. “One of the wounds to her face was a contact gunshot wound,” Johnson described. “The gun was pressed to her face when the trigger was pulled.”
Johnson declared to the jury that the female in the Flores home and the female “barking orders” to the others was Shawna Forde.
Not so fast, said defense attorney Eric Larsen. “When Gina Gonzalez testifies this afternoon it will be the first time we will have heard all of the details of the horrific experience she went through,” he said.
Larsen reminded the jurors that while they may have sympathy for Gina Gonzalez and her family that they need to keep their emotions in check. “The trial is a search for what actually happened,” he said “Your job is to be free of compassion.”
Larsen then repeated a position he had made clear last week during jury selection. “Shawna Forde was not involved in this crime,” he said. “The state’s case looks good as an umbrella, but it has a lot of holes.”
Larsen said the state has no witnesses or scientific evidence that put his client at the Flores home. “The state will present you with no witnesses that will put her in that home on May 30,” he said. “The only witness you will hear from about the events in that home will be Gina Gonzalez.”
Larsen said that Gonzalez has not been able to positively identify the female who entered her home that fateful night. “Gina Gonzalez eliminates Shawna Forde as being the person in that home,” he added.
The jury also heard about many of the witnesses they will hear from during the trial. They range from FBI informants in Colorado to an Arivaca resident Oin Oakstar who participated in planning the home invasion, but told his partners he was too drunk and high to accompany them to the Flores home the night of May 29-30.
Johnson told the jury that co-defendant Albert Gaxiola called Oakstar the day after the shooting asking him to come to his home where co-defendant Jason Bush was in need of medical treatment for a gunshot wound. Johnson said Forde was there when he arrived. “Shawna tells Oin it all went to hell,” referring to the home invasion the night before.
Oin was later taken into custody on weapons charges as he was a prohibited possessor having been previously convicted of a crime. Johnson said Oin initially lied to investigators until he eventually negotiated a plea agreement on the gun charges. “You aren’t going to like him,” she said.
Larsen seconded that notion during his opening statement. “He received a sweetheart deal and a walk on a homicide that he planned,” he told the jury. “He spent a few hours with these three people (referring to Johnson, Deputy County Attorney Rick Unklesbay and Det. Juan Carlos Navarro) at the state’s table saying everything thing they wanted to hear,” he added.
Larsen concluded by telling the jury that Gina Gonzalez has been conditioned to believe that Shawna Forde killed her husband and daughter. “She has been told that Shawna Forde did it,” he said. “She has observed her on video and in the courtroom.” Larsen said the jury would hear from an expert witness regarding the fallibility of witness identifications.
I also wrote for the Green Valley News: The lone survivor of the May 30, 2009, deadly home invasion at Arivaca told a Pima County Superior Court jury, yesterday afternoon, that she didn’t fear the worse for her husband and daughter because “I knew they were dead.”
Defense attorney Eric Larsen asked Gina Gonzalez if seeing her husband, Raul “Junior” Flores and her daughter Brisenia overwhelmed her, killed by home invaders. “It still does,” she testified.
During the afternoon session, yesterday, the prosecution first called 9-1-1 call taker Tanya Remsburg, who took the called from Gina Gonzalez shortly before 1 a.m. on May 30, 2009. As a part of her testimony an edited version of the call was played for the jury.
Remsburg asked Gonzalez a number of questions as they were awaiting the arrival of law enforcement and emergency medical personnel. It was apparent that Gonzalez was growing impatient with being asked to answer Remsburg’s questions.
Then we heard Gonzalez say on the call recording that the home invaders were coming back into her home. Several gunshots were then heard, as well as Gina using expletives to urge the home invaders to leave her home followed that. “They shot my husband and they shot my daughter and they shot me,” she said on the call recording.
After listening to the 9-1-1 recording, prosecutors called Border Patrol Agent Donald Williams to testify. Williams was one of the first law enforcement officers to arrive at the Flores home and entered the home with a deputy from the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.
Williams testified that he observed Raul Flores sitting on a couch in the living room. “It was pretty obvious that he was dead,” he said, basing his observation on his experience at a medic with the army national guard. “I saw the daughter laying on the couch and it was obvious she was dead.”
When Williams reached Gonzalez, he nudged her handgun away and observed a modified AK-47 lying on the stove in the kitchen. Williams then left the home to track sets of footprints away from the Flores home.
The Flores family
Initially, Deputy County Attorney Kellie Johnson asked Gonzalez about her marriage and family. She said that she and her husband had been married for 13 years. Besides Brisenia, who she said was 10 years old instead of the 9 years-old as has been reported, her other daughter was Alexandra, who is now 14 years-old.
During cross-examination Gonzalez cleared up an apparent misconception by defense counsel whop have referred to her having a “common law” marriage. “We were married,” she testified. “Nobody asked me.”
Gonzalez used a diagram of her trailer home to explain to the jury where rooms were located as well as doors. She talked about her jobs at the Arivaca Mercantile and the Arivaca Community Center.
In the afternoon of May 29, Gonzalez testified that the family had gone to Tucson to purchase groceries and other items. “Brisenia needed new shoes as she was starting summer school,” she testified.
When the family returned home they prepared to go to bed. Gonzalez and her husband were in their bedroom while Brisenia settled down on the couch in the living room because she wanted to sleep with her new puppy. “I had washed the sheets on her bed,” implying that the dog was not allowed in Brisena’s bedroom.
Shortly before 1 a.m., Raul Flores awakened Gina. “Raul was standing by the bed looking out the window,” she said.
Flores told his wife to get dressed and he went out to turn on lights before answering the door. “I sat on the couch next to Brisenia,” Gonzalez said. Brisenia was still asleep.
When Flores opened the door, a female said they were looking for fugitive and needed to search their home. Flores said he needed to put on some pants before allowing them into his home. “She tells him to open the door or we’re going to shoot you,” Gonzalez testified.
Flores sat on a second couch when the female and a tall male armed with a rifle and handgun entered their home. “He was tall. He was white. His face was painted black and his hair was really weird,” she testified.
Their first concern was the location of Brisenia’s sister Alexandra. Then the female became impatient when Flores asked questions. “She was telling us to shut up and be quiet,” Gonzalez testified.
Gonzalez was asked to describe the female. “She was short and heavy set,” she testified. “She moved her hair away from her face. It was brownish.”
During cross-examination Gonzalez revealed for the first time that she felt the female home invader was wearing a wig the first time she came into her and was not wearing a wig that second time.
Gonzalez was asked if the woman in her house was in the courtroom. “She’s sitting over there,” pointing to the defense table. “The one with the glasses on. I don’t know her and I can’t say she’s the person that came into my house.”
Just before Flores was shot to death the male gunman apologized. “Don’t take this personal,” Gonzalez testified. “But, this bullet has your name on it.”
At that point, Flores stood up and had a brief struggle with the gunman. When shots were fired Gonzalez jumped up attracting the attention of the gunman who fired at her. “I ducked down,” she said.
Gonzalez was struck in the right shoulder and in the upper portion of her right leg before falling to the floor in front of the couch where Brisenia was starting to wake up. “Junior yelled at him to stop shooting,” she said. That’s when the gunman resumed shooting at Flores killing him. “I hear Junior hit the couch saying no, no.”
The next sounds she heard was gurgling which told her he was going to die. Then the female home invader starting yelling about the items they came for were missing. “Everything’s clean,” Gonzalez testified. At that point, two additional males entered the home speaking Spanish.
A mother’s grief
Brisenia then asked why her father and mother had been shot. “He said everything will be okay,” Gonzalez testified. “She was really scared and her voice was shaking.”
At that point, the gunman calmly reloaded the clip for his handgun as Brisenia watched. “I could hear her telling him please don’t shoot me,” Gonzalez testified. “I saw her fly back on the couch after I heard the first shot.”
After the home invaders left, Gonzalez looked up from the floor to where her daughter was on the couch. “She was shaking,” she testified. “I was telling her not to die on me, but she was choking on her own blood.”
Gonzalez found a phone and hopped on one leg to the kitchen to find her husband’s gun. At6 that point the female returned dressed differently and with her hair in a ponytail. “She looked at me like she had seen a ghost,” she testified. “The gun then comes in and starts shooting at me. I saw bullets hitting the washer and dryer.”
One of her return shots apparently hit home. “I heard him cussing,” Gonzalez testified.
Gonzalez reviewed pictures of jewelry that had been found in Forde’s possession at the time of her arrest.
Then cross-examination started. Gonzalez denied that her husband was making money selling marijuana. She also denied there were packaging materials for marijuana in her home. And, she said she was not aware of a secret stash of drug money in her home when asked about a hiding place in her bedroom. “I thought he (Junior) kept dirty magazines and stuff in there,” she testified.
Gonzalez admitted she had a brother in prison, but was unaware of the charges he was convicted on. She denied that she had a sister killed in a drug-related incident.
As for the relationship between her husband and Albert Gaxiola, Gonzalez testified that they had clashed over Gaxiola storing marijuana on their property. She also testified that she had seen a teal colored Astro van driving slowly by her home earlier in the day with a male driver and a female passenger. That van was later located at Gaxiola’s house along with blood in the van and outside of Gaxiola’s home that matched the blood found at the Flores home. That blood was matched to Jason Bush.
© David S. Ricker, all rights reserved.