Friday, June 10, 2011

Testimony in the first week of Gaxiola trial brings a few surprises

Albert Gaxiola (pool photo by  Mamta Popat/ Arizona Daily Star)
The Pima County Superior Court jury in the double homicide trial for Arivaca resident Albert Robert Gaxiola was told at the start of testimony that Gaxiola was responsible for the deaths of Raul “Junior” Flores and his daughter, Brisenia, because he was the one who recruited co-defendants Shawna Forde and Jason Bush to kill them. 

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.


When addressing the jury during opening statements in the case, defense counsel Jack L. Lansdale seemed surprised to hear that his client had orchestrated the home invasion at the Flores home. “The state has added that they intend to prove that Gaxiola was the orchestrator of the crime,” he said.

Deputy County Attorney Kellie Johnson told the jury that it is clear that “Albert Gaxiola is the person who orchestrated all of this. It is Albert Gaxiola who wanted Raul Flores dead. He enlisted the help of two people by the name of Shawna Forde and Jason Bush.”

After hearing a recording of a 9-1-1 emergency center call made by the surviving victim in the fatal home invasion the jury heard Gonzalez relive for the third time from the witness stand the night she was wounded and her husband and daughter were shot to death before her eyes.

After she had been shot, Gonzalez decided to play dead in hopes of surviving. “I laid on the floor very scared,” she said. “I heard Junior taking his last breaths.”

Eventually, the tall male, Jason Bush, who was doing the shooting of the victims, addressed Brisenia, who by now had awakened. Bush asked her about the location of her older sister. “He was telling her that nothing was going to happen to her and that everything was going to be okay,” Gonzalez related. “She was crying a lot. She was scared.”


Brisenia told Bush that her sister was staying with her grandmother’s house. Brisenia was asked if the body on the floor in front of the love seat was her sister. “At first she said yes. Then she tips over and looks and says ‘that’s my mom; why did you shoot my mom?’” Gonzalez said.

At that point, Bush paused to reload his weapon as Brisenia watched. “I could hear him put the bullets in the gun,” Gonzalez said. “She was begging him not to shoot her.”

What followed were two more blasts from his gun in the direction of her daughter. “He shot her. I saw her fly back. He shot her twice,” Gonzalez said.

By that time the female intruder told her compatriots that they had to leave, but they paused first to search the Flores home for money and drugs. After they left, Gonzalez did what any mother would do. “I sat up and grabbed Brisenia. I was telling her not to die on me,” she testified. “She was shaking really hard.”

Gonzalez was able to get to a portable phone on an ottoman close by, thus she call 9-1-1. “I asked them what I should do,” she recalled.


At that point, Gonzalez notice that the female leader of the home invasion crew, Shawna Forde, re-entered the home with a big smile on her face. “I’m panicking; I’m freaking out; a million things are going through my head,” she said.

Gonzalez decided to try to get to her husband’s gun in the kitchen, as she made her way to the kitchen her leg snapped. Eventually, she retrieved the gun and used it to exchange gunshots with the tall male shooter, who had reentered her home, wounding him in the leg.

Family ties

Lansdale was interested in the relationship between his client and Gonzalez and her family. Gonzalez said a member of the Gaxiola family, Bernice, is her Godmother, but they are not related by blood. “I was introduced to him in 2002 by my Godmother,” she testified. “I think that I met him, was reacquainted with him in 2007. His grandma had passed away and he had come down for that.”

Lansdale told Gonzales that they were not trying to do a family tree; he asked her if she considered Gaxiola to be part of her family. “Yes, I consider him to be a relative,” she admitted. In fact, Gaxiola’s mother stopped Gonzalez in the courtroom during a break to speak with her.

Another relative of Gaxiola is married to an uncle of Gonzalez. Lansdale asked Gonzalez if she had mentioned in a statement to detectives that she thought his client’s last name was actually Sanchez. “Bernice’s last name was Sanchez so I couldn’t figure out his last name,” Gonzalez said.

At one point in time, Gaxiola worked at the feed store near the mercantile and he would visit Gonzalez at the store and he also would pick up her daughters from the community center. “He did it twice,” she recalled.

Gaxiola also had dinner at the Flores home a number of times. Gonzalez had mentioned that her daughters loved Gaxiola and he reciprocated that expression of love.

Noises in the night

The jury also heard from a former neighbor of Gaxiola’s, Inga Hartman. The evening of May 29, 2009, Hartman had retired to bed at 8 p.m. but awoke around 10 p.m. “I had a restless night. I slept on and off,” she recalled. “At 1:15, I woke up because somebody had been slamming a car lid in Albert’s yard. I looked at the clock.” The fatal home invasion took place shortly before 1 a.m. as the 9-1-1 call placed by Gonzalez was received at 12:49 a.m.

Hartman went outside to investigate the source of the noise. “They tried to start the car and it flooded out and they slammed the lid. That was going on about six times,” she said. “I went out and looked over my back fence and I could see over there. There was a car and a lady in there with blond hair. I got a whiff of the exhaust and couldn’t breathe so I went back into the house.”

While Hartman was unable to see Gaxiola working on the stalled vehicle she assumed that it was Gaxiola. “My dogs didn’t bark because they knew Albert,” she said. “I heard Albert’s voice.”

Hartman testified that after she went into her house she heard the slamming of the hood another two times. She admitted she did not hear the car start and she did not hear it drive away.

She said the noise ceased about 10 minutes after she had awakened at 1:15 a.m. “It was about 15-20 minutes total,” Hartman clarified.

Minuteman medic

The jury also heard from a former member of the Minutemen American group founded by Forde.  New Mexico resident Chuck Stonex testified that he observed Forde, on the night of May 30, 2009, hand a set of keys and a scrap of paper containing a phone number to Laine Lawless, an ardent supporter of Forde and the founder of a group known as the Border Guardians.

It was that set of keys that Lawless reportedly took to Tucson and handed to a person who may have been Albert Robert Gaxiola. “I saw Shawna give Laine Lawless a set of keys,” he said.  “With the keys, also, Laine Lawless was also given a phone number to call to give the keys to in Tucson.” Those keys operated an orange Honda Element owned by Forde. 

Stonex had gone to the Gaxiola residence to provide first aide to Bush who had suffered a wound to his leg.


On Friday, the jury heard from a parade of forensic technicians from the Pima County Sheriff’s Department and the Arizona Department of Public Safety regarding this case. The jury spent nearly three-hours learning about the science of DNA from Scott Walton, a validation scientist (formerly a DNA analyst) with Sorenson Forensics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Walton also testified during the trial for Shawna Forde.

Walton testified that the mixture of DNA found on the AK-47 rifle left behind on to of the stove in the Flores homes showed a profile that was a match to the profile for Gaxiola. “Yes, to Albert Gaxiola,” he said.

The trial is scheduled to resume on Tuesday, June 14, at 10:30 a.m. before Judge John S. Leonardo. Among the witnesses expected to testify is former Arivaca drug dealer Oin Oakstar.