Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Forde is now eligible for the death penalty

Forde listening to the reading 
of today's verdicts.
The jury hearing the double homicide case for Minuteman American Defense founder Shawna Forde at Pima County Superior Court has found that the defendant is eligible to receive the death penalty in connection with the May 30, 2009, murder of Raul “Junior” Flores and his 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia.

The jury had found, Monday, that Forde was guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, the attempted first-degree murder of Gina Gonzalez, the wife of Raul Flores and mother of Brisenia Flores, as well as 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.

Phase two

At this point, the jury is obligated to hear evidence regarding the two counts of first-degree murder as they consider the appropriate penalty for Forde.

The jury was asked, Tuesday morning, to consider two aspects of the evidence they had already heard during the first phase of the trial. The first aspect was the “degree of participation” by Forde in the events that led to the deaths of Flores and his daughter.

The jury was asked to determine, in respect to both victims, if Forde:
1.     Killed either victim;
2.     Attempted to kill either victim;
3.     Intended to kill either victim; or
4.     Was a major participant in the crimes that resulted in the deaths of either of the victims.

All 12 jurors returned verdicts that said Forde was a major participant in intending to kill both victims and a major participant in the events that led to the deaths of both victims.

The jury was also asked to consider evidence they had already heard in support of four aggravating factors alleged by the prosecution. Those factors are:
·       The defendant has been convicted of another offense in the United States for which under Arizona law a sentence of life imprisonment or death was imposable.
·       The defendant has been or was previously convicted of a serious offense, whether preparatory or completed. Convictions for serious offenses committed on the same occasion as the homicide, or not committed on the same occasion but consolidated for trial with the homicide, shall be treated as a serious offense under this paragraph.
·       The defendant committed the offense as consideration for the receipt, or in expectation of the receipt, of anything of pecuniary value.
·       The defendant was an adult at the time the offense was committed or was tried as an adult and the murdered person was under 15 years of age, was an unborn child in the womb at any stage of its development or was seventy years of age or older.

The jury found that the first three factors were proven in regards to the death of Raul Flores and that all four were proven in regards to the death of Brisenia Flores.

Those verdicts triggered the third phase of the proceeding, which some call the mitigation phase and others refer to it as the penalty phase. During this phase the burden of proof rests with the defense.

It’s likely the jury will hear evidence that the defense hopes will mitigate or lessen the severity of the jury’s verdicts on the first-degree murder counts. This mitigation evidence could be virtually anything, but normally reflects challenges from a fiscal or social point of view faced by the defendant early in life. It could cover abuse or mistreatment of the defendant as a child or during her adult life. It’s likely that this phase of the trial will stretch into next week. Defense counsel predicted they would conclude offering testimony by noon Friday. It’s conceivable, but unlikely that the jury will hear closing arguments in the penalty phase of the trial on Friday.

Final verdicts

It is up to the jury to decide if the mitigation evidence is relevant and if it is whether or not it is sufficient to persuade them to render a verdict of life in prison rather than death. If the ultimate verdict is death then the verdict is automatic. If the verdict is life in prison then the judge is charged with deciding whether the defendant serves a sentence of natural life or life with the possibility of applying for parole after serving 25 calendar years or 35 calendar years in the event that the victim was younger that age 15. The judge normally makes that determination based upon testimony heard during the course of the trial, a presentence report compiled by the Pima County Adult Probation Department that contains information from the defendant and the victims, letters from victims and supporters of the defendant and statements that made be offered by either the victims or the defendant during the sentencing hearing.

Finally, all first-degree murder convictions that result in the death penalty are automatically appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court. The defendant receives new appointed counsel to represent them and the process begins of reviewing the transcripts of the trial looking for errors by the court and the attorneys. Eventually, a hearing is held before the Arizona Supreme Court and depending upon the decision of that body the case is either returned to superior court or it may be appealed to the federal courts.