Friday, June 03, 2011

Opening statements are set in the Gaxiola case for Tuesday morning

Albert Gaxiola

Depending who you believe, Albert Robert Gaxiola was present or not present for the shooting deaths of Raul “Junior” Flores and his daughter Brisenia Flores shortly before 1 a.m. on the morning of May 30, 2009. That’s what a Pima County Superior Court jury of seven males and nine females will try to decide during the next four-five weeks in the courtroom of Judge John S. Leonardo, starting Tuesday with opening statements at 10:30 a.m.

For deliberation purposes, four alternate jurors will be chosen at random, thus only 12 jurors will deliberate. Once the jury has determined if Gaxiola was present during the shooting deaths in Arivaca and whether or not he is guilty or not guilty of the two counts of first-degree murder he faces, they may have the duty of determining the penalty he faces for the murder charges he faces.


Gaxiola, 43, faces two counts of first-degree murder in the May 30, 2009 deaths of Flores and his daughter. 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.

State’s case

Raul and Brisenia
During the jury selection process, prospective jurors heard short statements summarizing the evidence they will hear during the course of the case. “Some people armed with guns went into the home of Junior Flores, his wife Gina Gonzalez and their 9-year-old daughter Brisenia,” said Deputy Pima County Attorney Rick Unklesbay. “The family was asleep”

Forde was convicted under the felony murder theory earlier this year and Bush was convicted under both the premeditated and felony theories. In order to be convicted under the felony murder theory a person must be present during the commission of a felony where someone dies. “This trial is about Albert Gaxiola and his alleged involvement,” said Unklesbay. “We have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Albert Gaxiola that was part of this home invasion crew that went into the Flores-Gonzalez household.”

Defense perspective

Defense counsel Jack L. Lansdale told the jury that they would be presented evidence that will prove that his client was not present during the commission of the murders of Flores and his daughter. “Unlike the state’s theory of the case we’re going to ask you to pay close attention to timelines,” he said.

Lansdale said the lone surviving victim would also provide key testimony including her relationship with Gaxiola. “Gina Gonzalez had known Albert Gaxiola for years. She will tell you that Albert’s aunt is her god mother, that Albert Gaxiola has picked her children up from the community center and brought them to her home, that Albert Gaxiola has been to her home for dinner,” he said. “She knows him well.”


On Friday, a staunch supporter of co-defendant Forde, Laine Lawless, lost a bid to quash a subpoena from the prosecution compelling her to testify at some point during the case. The Internet blogger and would-be book author alleged that she had been placed under subpoena in order to keep her out of the courtroom during the trial.

The Flores home in Arivaca
Unklesbay assured Fields that they were not trying to prohibit Lawless from exercising her rights as a journalist. “It is not our intention to unnecessarily keep Ms. Lawless out of the courtroom, but she is a fact witness in this case,” he said.  “It is not as if she was some journalist that had been investigating the case. She inserted herself into this case on the very day that the murders occurred and had contact with at least two of the defendants and arguably all three of the defendants, taking potential evidence from one location to another.”

You may recall, that Lawless had attempted to sneak into the courtroom during the Forde trial wearing a disguise. The motion was argued before Presiding Criminal Bench Judge Richard S. Fields, who denied the motion, thus Lawless remains on subpoena for the case and will remain outside of the courtroom until it is determined if she will be needed to testify. After the hearing, Lawless was observed in the Pima County Law Library researching ways to appeal the ruling by Fields.

Sibling heartbreak

Should the trial require the third phase, the phase where the jury decides the penalty Gaxiola will face if he is convicted on the two counts of first-degree murder one of the subpoenaed witnesses ready to testify is Sonia Muniz, Gaxiola’s sister.

She has been following the legal proceedings from afar via the Internet. “Unfortunately all people have had to read are the bad things that they are accusing Albert of, but in all actuality Albert is one of the most kindest people you could meet,” she wrote in an email. “Bush and Forde had not one person that had anything positive to say about them. It is a complete 360 when it comes to Albert.”

Muniz has been sensitive regarding the pictures used by the media in stories regarding her brother. The photos available at this point are his booking photo at the Pima County Adult Detention Center or a picture depicting Gaxiola being taken from the headquarters for the Pima County Sheriff’s Department to the jail. “I see you have changed the photo,” she said, after seeing the perp walk picture used in a story. “I do have better photos of my brother you are more than welcome to use. It shows the real Albert not the Albert with detectives fingers poking into his arms.”

Muniz said she is having difficulty coping with the situation. “As you can imagine being so far away and only able to read articles it is really hard reading what the media writes and portrays my brother as,” she said.