The Pima County Superior Court jury hearing the penalty phase of the death penalty case of Minuteman American Defense founder Shawna Forde was told Wednesday morning that she had been molested at an early age and continuously between the ages of five and 12 years-old.
|Forde trauma timeline|
The jury 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. Tuesday the jury found that Forde was eligible for the death penalty on the two first-degree murder counts.
Wednesday, Forde’s birth mother Rena Caudle via a pre-recorded video presentation told the jury that she learned that her daughter confided about 10 years ago that her stepfather had molested her. This revelation put behavior as a child into a clearer perspective. “We were having trouble with Shawna,” she said. “She would smear feces on the wall.”
Caudle also said that Shawna was jealous of her younger half-sister, who was also named Rena. “One day I came out of the bathroom and she was holding a pillow over Rena’s face,” she recalled. “I was really scared.”
Private investigator/mitigation specialist Margaret DiFrank said she learned that Ken Caudle, another stepfather, had mistreated Forde as a child. “One time he beat Shawna so bad with a belt buckles that he felt possessed,” she testified.
Caudle said she consulted with an elder in the Jehovah’s Witnesses as to what she should do. She said that elder advised her to adopt her out to a family with no children, which she did. Harold and Patricia Breitgham adopted Forde in October 1971. “In the adoption records, she talked about how Shawna had been biting on little Rena,” said DiFrank.
DiFrank said Forde’s birth mother tried to maintain a relationship with her daughter after she gave her up for adoption by visiting her at the Breitgham’s. The problem was Forde had lived in so many households up until that time she was craving stability. “Every time a car pulled into the driveway at the Breitgham’s Shawna would start screaming ‘Please don’t take me. Please don’t take me,’” DiFrank testified. “For two weeks after Rena and Ken would visit, Shawna would have nightmares for two weeks.”
|Patricia Breitgham on video.|
DiFrank told the jury that about six months after the adoption, Harold began molesting Forde, who was then 5-years-old, virtually every afternoon. “Mr. Breitgham insisted that Shawna perform oral sex on him and he would perform oral sex on her,” she testified. “He would even pay her afterwards.”
DiFrank said Breitgham, who was an engineer at Boeing Aircraft, would take frequent trips to Yakima. He insisted that Forde accompany him on those car trips. “He insisted that Shawna ride with him completely undressed,” DiFrank said, adding that numerous sex acts were performed as they drove along.
After Forde reached age 12 the Breitgham’s decided to take her to the Deaconess Children’s Home. Ironically, Forde’s mother had stayed there when she was young. “The Breitgham’s abandoned her at the doorstep,” he said.
During the afternoon session, the jury heard from Washington real estate broker Sharon Mooreland who knew Forde as a teenager by the name of Shawna Breitgham. Mooreland was a counselor at the Echo Glen Children’s Center. She said Forde had been sentenced to the facility as punishment for convictions on charges of prostitution and theft. “It was very important for Shawna to be loved, to be important, to have value,” she testified.
Rena Jr. testifies
The jury also heard from Rena Lee Fitzgerald, the half-sister Forde reportedly tried to smother with a pillow at age four. “I first met her when I was 16,” Fitzgerald testified. “We grew to be very close.”
Fitzgerald was asked about Rena Caudle, the mother she shares with Forde. “I think my mother is suffering from personality disorders,” she testified. Fitzgerald also agreed that Caudle attempts to play each of her children off against each other.
The Caudles were members of the Jehovah Witnesses for about 18 years. Fitzgerald said she had been the victim of dis-fellowship herself and was regularly shunned by her own parents. “They refused to attend my wedding,” she said. “When I got pregnant with my son I told them it was all or nothing.” Thus, Fitzgerald and her family are no longer shunned.
Fitzgerald said the last time she had seen Forde, prior to Wednesday, was June 2008 when visiting their mother at Redding, Calif.
Pool photos courtesy of Jonathon LeFaive