Friday, January 07, 2011

Who really did commit the home invasion and murders in Arivaca on May 30, 2009?

Less than a week before opening arguments are anticipated in the death penalty case facing Shawna Forde in Pima County Superior Court, one of three defendants charged in the shooting deaths of Raul “Junior” Flores and his daughter, Brisenia, 9, the defense team for Forde argued its latest motion to continue the trial.

Leland "Red" Sprout
The motion was filed late on the afternoon of Jan. 6. According to defense counsel Eric Larsen, he and co-counsel Jill Thorpe met with FBI agents and were told of another potential suspect in the case. The name Leland "Red" Sprout came up in FBI documents regarding associates of contacts the FBI had in Colorado. "We had never heard of him before 3 p.m. yesterday afternoon," said Larsen, during a hearing Friday afternoon, before Judge John S. Leonardo.

According to Larsen, after the shooting at the Flores household a text message was sent from a cellphone register to Forde to a cell phone registered to co-defendant Albert Gaxiola stating that "Red" had been wounded and couldn't be moved and he needed medical attention. Larsen said that was when Forde supporter Laine Lawless and Minuteman Chuck Stonex responded to treat Bush's wound. Larsen suggested there may be a picture somewhere of Laine Lawless at Gaxiola’s house dressed in camouflage gear holding a rifle.

Larsen told Judge Leonardo that additional investigation is needed. "This is vital information," said Larsen. "Based on conversations with my client they (Forde and Sprout) don't know each other." Larsen conducted a Google search for Sprout after the meeting with the FBI and found that Sprout was involved in border minutemen groups. He had a picture of Sprout wearing a red T-shirt holding and automatic handgun in front of his chest. "If Jason Bush is 'Red' it leads to Shawna Forde," said Larsen. “If Leland Sprout is 'Red' it leads in another direction. We have the right to raise reasonable doubt and we have the right to raise third party culpability."

In response, prosecutor Kellie Johnson told the court that the FBI received a call in July from Ronald Wedow in Colorado stating: “Leland Sprout may have been involved in the Arivaca shooting or a choosing on the California/Mexico border."

"It is Shawna Forde who is texting that 'Red' is injured," Johnson added. "It is Laine Lawless and Chuck Stonex who show up at Gaxiola's house and give Jason Bush medical attention."

Larsen reminded Johnson of the court's earlier ruling regarding the cell phones. "It's a phone registered to Shawna Forde texting to a phone registered to Albert Gaxiola," he said. "They can't put the phone in her (Forde's) hands."

Judge Leonardo denied the motion to continue the trial calling it "speculative." He did grant a defense request for a telephonic interview with Wedow as soon as possible. Larsen asked for a court order forcing Wedow to disclose the name of the associate who told him about Leland "Red" Sprout. Leonardo asked that the parties work things out but stopped short of issuing a court order compelling Wedow to disclose the information sought by Larsen.

Earlier in the hearing, discussion centered on the jury selection process. A total of 225 prospective jurors filled out the 17-page questionnaire on Wednesday, Jan. 5. By mutual agreement between the prosecution and defense, 122 of those jurors have been excused based upon their answers to the questionnaire. "We largely agreed, but not 100 percent," said Thorpe.

That leaves 103 jurors in the pool for this case. The defense asked for one other juror to be excused based upon her employment as an in-house attorney for Customs and Border Protection. There is one witness from the Border Patrol scheduled to testify, but it was unclear if this lawyer represents the Border Patrol or Customs. She will be brought back to clarify during voir dire.

Forde was not present for Friday's hearing. Judge Leonardo asked if she planned to attend the trial as she has only attended one court hearing since she was indicted in the case. Larsen said his client planned to attend the trial. "We were chatting today about what size she is," Larsen said, referring to civilian clothing that she might wear at trial.

During discussions regarding scheduling, it appears the state will take most if not all of the month of January to present its case. The defense said it might take four or five days. Larsen speculated that the jury may get the case in the guilt phase of the trial on Feb. 4 or Feb. 8 depending on the length questioning for some witnesses. Most days, trial will start at 10:30 a.m. and conclude at 5 p.m. On Fridays, trial will start at 9 a.m. On Tuesday, Jan. 18, trial will start at 1:30 p.m. due to the MLK holiday the day before. Check out my coverage of the trial in the Green Valley News and Sun and its affiliated publications.

© David S. Ricker, all rights reserved.