Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Defense case resumes in the Gaxiola murder trial

Albert Gaxiola
(pool photo by Benjie
Sanders/Arizona Daily

The Pima County Superior Court jury hearing the double-murder trial for former Arivaca resident Albert Robert Gaxiola heard, Tuesday, from two former patrol deputies with the Pima County Sheriff’s Department and two private investigators working on behalf of the defendant.

Gaxiola, 43, faces two counts of first-degree murder in the May 30, 2009, deaths of Raul “Junior” Flores and his daughter, Brisenia, 9. Additional charges include: the attempted first-degree murder of Gina Marie Gonzalez; 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.

Both Forde and co-defendant Jason Eugene Bush have been tried and convicted on the same charges. Forde received two death sentences plus 65 years in the Arizona Department of Corrections and Bush received two death sentences and 78 years in prison.

Birthday party

Last week, the reputed leader of drug smuggling in Arivaca, Edward Anson “Eddie” Valdez, denied any knowledge of the planned home invasion on May 30, 2009. In fact, he testified that Brisenia Flores and her sister were invited to attend a birthday party for his daughter that day.  “I had seen him a week earlier and I was having my daughter’s birthday that day and I asked him to bring the girls over,” he testified.

Valdez, 35, testified that he lives on a ranch near Arivaca Lake with his mother, brother, girlfriend and children.

During a visit to the Flores home on May 12, 2011, private investigator Weaver Barkman photographed a calendar in the kitchen. “It was hanging on the side of the refrigerator,” he testified. “It’s a calendar showing the month of May 2009. It looks like Kyler’s birthday party at the lake, 10 a.m.”

Expert testimony

Much of Barkman’s testimony was limited by his lack of expert status in the eyes of the court. Barkman is a former sergeant with the sheriff’s department who retired from law enforcement service in 1995. Deputy County Attorney Rick Unklesbay pressed Barkman about his skills and training as an expert. “Would you agree with me that the last time you personally processed a crime scene was the late 1970s or early 1980s?” he asked. “No sir,” Barkman replied.

“When was the last time you processed a crime scene?” Unklesbay asked. “I supervised…” Barkman started to reply.

“Not supervised, but actually processed it yourself, made decisions about what to photograph, what to collect,” Unklesbay clarified. “In 1995,” Barkman replied.

“You actually processed a scene yourself in 1995?” Unklesbay asked. “I directed that it be processed,” Barkman replied.

“Let me ask the question again one more time. You, personally sir, as a detective processing a scene yourself not following someone else, but processing it yourself?” Unklesbay asked. “1995,” Barkman replied. “Are you asking if I actually picked up an item of evidence?”

“In 1995, as a sergeant I was still involved in active participation in processing a scene,” Barkman added.

Monday morning quarterback

Unklesbay asked Barkman if precise reporting is important in crime investigation, pointing out numerous errors in reports Barkman submitted and testimony from the witness stand earlier on Tuesday. “Mr. Barkman, one of the things you do is Monday morning quarterback what other detectives do?” he asked. “Objection, argumentative,” said defense counsel Jack L. Lansdale. “Overruled,” said Judge John S. Leonardo.

Before recessing for the day, the defense called another private investigator to testify. Lois Grushka has been a licensed private investigator for 22 years. “I’ve had my own agency for the last six,” she said.

On June 16, 2011 at 11:30 a.m., Grushka recorded a video of the drive between Arivaca Junction and the Gaxiola residence and the route from Gaxiola’s residence to the Flores residence. “I own a video camera. I mounted it to the dash of my vehicle,” she testified.

The jury watched the entire video recording in real time, 36:07, with sporadic commentary from defense counsel Steven D. West and Grushka. “The speed is clearly marked on the road,” she testified.

Grushka also testified that the drive from Gaxiola’s residence to the Flores residence took 8:06.

On June 4, 2011, 12:30 a.m., Det. Juan Carlos Navarro and Det. Mark O’Dell, another member of the Homicide Unit went to Arivaca to make the same drive with a video recording. “We wanted to time the distance from the Flores residence to Albert Gaxiola’s residence and the distance from Albert Gaxiola’s residence to the Amado/Arivaca Junction,” Navarro said. “I wanted to drive the speed limit and find out exactly how long it takes from his house to Amado. The speed limit is 45. I drove from 45-50. From Mesquite to 2nd took me six minutes, seven seconds, 3.3 miles. From 2nd to the Amado Junction took 31 minutes, 23.3 miles. I never went over 50.”

Wednesday, it is anticipated that the defense will call an expert to testify regarding cellphone usage.