Shawna Forde (left) and defense
attorney Jill Thorpe.
The founder of Minuteman American Defense, Shawna Forde, who is facing a possible death sentence if convicted on two counts of first-degree murder, has informed Pima County Superior Court Judge John S. Leonardo that she will not be taking the stand in her own defense.
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 charges of one count of attempted first-degree murder; 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.
|Judge John S. Leonardo|
On Tuesday, shortly after the jury of 14 females and two males were dismissed until 10 a.m. on Thursday, Forde’s attorney Eric Larsen informed Leonardo that Forde and he had numerous conversations during the pendency of the case against her about the advisability of her taking the stand or invoking her right against self-incrimination and that his client had decided not to testify in her own behalf. This prompted Leonardo to inquire of the defendant if that was her decision to which she replied “That’s correct.”
Tuesday afternoon, the judge met with the lawyers to finalize jury instructions and verdict forms. We learned that the prosecution was proceeding under the felony murder theory thus the jury would not be offered the opportunity to consider the lesser-included charges of second-degree murder, homicide or negligent homicide.
Earlier on Tuesday, the jury heard testimony from three defense witnesses, Sarah Schumacher, Byron Easter and Robert Copley. Schumacher is a former fiancé of prosecution witness Oin Oakstar. Easter is a friend of Inga Hartman who lived next door to codefendant Albert Gaxiola. And, Copley is the founder of the Colorado Minutemen and an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Copley told the jury that he lives in Colorado where he is a “bail bondsman/ fugitive recovery agent” and some-times shares information he has with the FBI. Last week, an acquaintance of Copley’s, Ron Wedow, testified about his contact with Forde before and after the May 30, 2009, home invasion that left Raul Flores and his daughter Brisenia dead and his wife, Gina Gonzalez, wounded.
Yesterday, Copley told the jury that he had known Wedow 4-5 years. “We do operations and personal escort,” he testified. He elaborated that the operations involved Minuteman activities. “Typical minuteman stuff, what old people do,” he added.
Although Copley had spoken with Forde and exchanged emails starting about April 2009 the first time they met was on May 15, 2009, at a truck stop in Colorado. “The first time and only time was when she came to Colorado,” he testified.
This was a two-and-a-half hour meeting that was attended by Forde, Copley, Wedow, David Cox, “Bandana Dave” and “Sio.” Copley testified that he selected the people who attended the meeting. He said he had met “Bandana Dave” at a Tea Party meeting in Colorado. He added that “Bandana Dave” was his handle and he never learned what his real name was.
Copley said the FBI was aware of the meeting. “They asked me to keep my ear to the ground,” he testified.
Robert Copley testifies about a
picture of Forde and himself.
Discussion at the Colorado meeting involved Forde’s proposal to interrupt the activities of Mexican drug cartels bringing drugs into Arizona. Copley was asked if any of Forde’s proposals included home invasion scenarios. “I’m afraid it was,” he said. “The idea of the original operation was not a home invasion. It morphed into that.”
Copley was quoted in a pretrial statement as saying: “What was discussed was taking a cartel staging area,” he said. “There was no particular building or location. Just Arivaca.”
Copley did recall discussion of using two teams. Copley’s team would make first entry to secure the building. Forde’s team that would follow that and collect drugs, money and weapons. “Affirmative,” Copley testified.
Copley was asked on cross-examination if his team would have been armed had they participated in Forde’s proposal to go “after members of the cartel.” He said that would be accurate. “If you get shot at you shoot back,” he testified.
The prosecution even produced a picture of Copley and Forde taken at the Colorado meeting where he admitted learning about Arivaca for the first time. “We Googled Arivaca to find a map to look at as we discussed logistics,” he said.
Copley was reminded of a pretrial statement regarding Forde’s plans. “Her idea was a house in Arivaca,” he said in the statement. “Arivaca was a hub for drug trafficking.” Copley added that Forde was connected to something called the “American Cartel.”
Copley was asked about Forde’s alleged plan that called for his team to enter and secure the house first and Forde’s team would follow. He felt a bit anxious about that aspect of the plan. “Our feeling was not knowing her team that they might come in and take us down leaving the impression that we were the only ones participating in the operation,” he said.
Copley testified that Forde’s original plan was for September, but that Forde advanced the operation to May. “She jumped the chain of command and started contacting individuals,” he said. “She bought Sio a bus ticket to Arizona. We did everything we could to contact him.”
Copley also testified that he learned about the Arivaca home invasion from Wedow and that they both spoke to the FBI on June 1.
Tucson resident Sarah Schumaker testified regarding her 11-year relationship with prosecution witness Oin Oakstar. “We were friends, a little bit more than friends,” she testified. She told the jury she had visited Oakstar when he was serving a sentence in the Arizona Department of Corrections facility at Douglas.
Following Oakstar’s sentence to intensive probation on the weapons charge in relation to this case Schumaker observed Oakstar using drugs in violation of the terms of his probation. Defense attorney Eric Larsen asked Schumaker if she agreed with the assessment that Oakstar would tell people what they wanted to hear. She did not disagree with that assessment.
Schumaker was asked if she knew Forde and co-defendant Jason Bush. “He told me that he did not know them,” she testified.
Schumaker also testified that Oakstar was upset at the news that Brisenia Flores had been killed. “He believed killing a 9-year-old was horrible,” she testified.
Schumaker was asked if she was testifying about Oakstar’s inconsistent statements was the result of being a woman scorned. “I’m telling the truth,” she testified. “I’m over Oin. I’m glad to have him out of my life.”
Easter describes the man who
exited the van.
Finally, Arivaca resident Byron Easter testified he was visiting Inga Hartman, a neighbor of co-defendant Albert Gaxiola on May 29, 2009. Easter testified seeing a teal blue van drive up to Gaxiola’s home in the morning and a male and female get out. He described the male as tall with black hair and a beard. He described the female as short, stocky and having light blond hair with a reddish tint.
He was shown a picture of Forde taken at the time of the home invasion. “Was it Shawna Forde?” he was asked. “No,” was his first answer followed by “I’m not sure. I don’t think so.”
All pool photos are courtesy of Jonathon LeFaive