Friday, February 18, 2011

Forde’s fate rests with the jury which will return Tuesday

The life of convicted double-murderer Shawna Forde has been full of pain and suffering, at least that’s what the Pima County Superior Court jury deciding if she will live or be put to death has heard during testimony this week.  

Forde talks with Larsen.
That jury deliberated a little over two hours Friday before retiring for a long weekend due to the Presidents Day Holiday. They are scheduled to resume deliberations on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.

Forde, 43, was found guilty, Monday, on two counts of first-degree murder, the attempted first-degree murder of Gina Gonzalez, the wife of murder victim Raul Flores and mother of murder victim 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.

The Final Frontier

Before the jury began deliberating a Forde’s fate, Friday, defense attorney Eric Larsen reminded them of the 1989 science fiction movie Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Larsen pointed out that in that movie Spock’s half-brother, Sybok, used his ability to reveal and heal the innermost pain of a person in order to gain the trust of key members of the crew of the Enterprise. While Dr. McCoy and Spock accept Sybok’s help, Capt. James T. Kirk refuses the Vulcan’s offer, telling him that his pain is what makes him human. “Pain is what makes Shawna Forde who she is,” Larsen said. “We carry it with us today the same way we carried it as a child.”

Larsen reminded the jury that Forde’s life has been full of pain and anguish and that has influenced her conduct in her adult life. “You can only be happy from the inside,” he said. “{She doesn’t know that.”

Guilt admission?

During the first closing argument for the defense, attorney Jill Thorpe basically admitted that her client had been at the Flores home during the early morning hours of May 30, 2009, and that she had participated in the crimes that had taken place. “When she was in the Flores home when Junior was shot. When she was in the back room as Brisenia was shot by Jason Bush does she have the ability to develop a different strategy?” she asked, in reference to Forde’s lower intelligence quotient (IQ) and lack of ability to think on her feet.

Thorpe was asked later if her statement was an admission to the jury that Forde was guilty of the crimes she had been convicted of committing. “It is what it is,” she said, saying that it was made without agreement from her client.

Thorpe also suggested to the jury that a verdict for the death penalty would feed Forde’s ego. “Shawna would be a celebrity,” she argued. “Give her life and she will fade into the prison community and she will be a nobody.”


Deputy County Attorney Rick Unklesbay countered that argument with one of accountability for one’s actions. “There comes a time in your life when you have to take responsibility for your actions,” he argued.

Unklesbay suggested there are people who have experienced lives just as difficult or even more difficult than Forde yet they have been able to rise above those problems to lead exceptional lives. “You would think as a victim herself that she would recognize that you don’t victimize others,” he said.

This case has not been the first time Unklesbay and Larsen have opposed each other, but it may be the last as Larsen intends to retire in August. “Mr. Unklesbay and I have gone around for 20 years on the issues of excuse versus behavior,” he said, smiling in Unklesbay’s direction. “Reasonable minds can differ as to what the appropriate penalty should be. They want you to trust them when they say death is the appropriate penalty.”

Larsen told the jury that it was up to them as to the appropriate penalty should be in this case. “We’re talking about the value of human life,” he said. “Nothing can be more basic than that. Is her life so invaluable that it has to be taken?”

The price of justice

Unklesbay suggested that Forde is morally culpable for the lives of Raul “Junior” Flores and Brisenia Flores and she changed the lives of Gina Gonzalez and her other daughter, Alexandra, forever. “Yet, her ego is the most important thing in her life,” he said. Unklesbay was unaware that Forde had offered, through her attorney, to grant interviews to any member of the news media as long as they showed up with a check.

As to what the final verdict should be, Unklesbay was clear. “There is not an ounce of evidence that she should be shown leniency,” he said. “All we ask is that you do justice.”
Pool photos courtesy of Jonathon LeFaive