A Pima County Superior Court jury has sentenced Minutemen American Defense founder Shawna Forde to death for her role in the May 30, 2009, shooting deaths of Arivaca residents Raul “Junior” Flores and his daughter, Brisenia, 9.
|Forde listens to the verdicts|
Judge John S. Leonardo immediately pronounced the sentence of death on Forde or the two counts and ordered that sentencing on the other six counts be set for April 25.
It took one male and 11 female jurors approximately four hours of deliberation to reach their verdicts of death in the case. The jury left the courthouse without comment after meeting with Gina Gonzales for about 15 minutes in the jury deliberation room.
Deputy County Attorneys Rick Unklesbay and Kellie Johnson had no comment as well as they are scheduled to start picking a jury in the case of co-defendant Jason Bush on Match 15 before Judge Leonardo. Co-defendant Albert Gaxiola is set to go to trial on June 1.
Defense attorney Eric Larsen noted that the sentences would be automatically appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court. “We used to show people that killing (people who kill people) is wrong,” he said. “We are now in the process of teaching people that people who do not kill people should be killed.”
The jury found, on Feb. 14, that Forde, 43, was guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, the attempted first-degree murder of Gina Gonzalez, the wife of Flores and mother of Brisenia, 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.
On Feb. 15, the jury found that Forde was eligible for the death penalty on the two first-degree murder counts. Since then, the jury has heard mitigation evidence that the defense hopes will allow the jurors to grant Forde leniency and sentence her to live in prison as opposed to death by lethal injection. The jury began deliberations on Feb. 18 and resumed deliberations Tuesday morning and returned their verdicts shortly afternoon.
During the first closing argument for the defense last Friday 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.
Deputy County Attorney Rick Unklesbay countered that closing 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.
The price of justice
Unklesbay suggested in his closing argument 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. “There is not an ounce of evidence that she should be shown leniency,” he said. “All we ask is that you do justice.”
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.