Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Gaxiola jury hears from psychologist who has never met the defendant

The Pima County Superior Court jury that will decide if former Arivaca resident Albert Robert Gaxiola spends the rest of his life in prison or is executed by lethal injection heard testimony Tuesday afternoon regarding the negative factors in the defendant’s life that made him the person he is today.

On July 1, Gaxiola, 44, was found guilty on two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Raul “Junior” Flores and his daughter Brisenia, as well as six other charges. Earlier this year, Bush and Forde were found guilty on the same charges in separate trials. They both ended up with death sentences imposed by the juries hearing the evidence of their crimes.

The science explained

Mark Cunningham
Mark D. Cunningham, Ph.D., is a board certified clinical and forensic psychologist from Dallas, Tex. Cunningham was hired by the defense to review Gaxiola’s life to this point with an eye towards explaining how he came to be convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and is facing the death penalty. “He’s 42 when this offense occurs. Isn’t that kind of late in the day to be talking about things that happened to you, particularly in your first four years of life,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham testified that the U.S. Department of Justice has recognized that early childhood factors do make a difference. “The influence of family environment on a child’s social development lasts a lifetime. You are building the person that’s going to be present from here on,” he testified.

Mom’s influence

Cunningham was asked about the influence of Gaxiola’s mother, Sandra. “There is her partying with her children. This includes when they’re teenagers. She’s smoking weed with them when they join her in Arizona. She was using cocaine, drinking smoking weed,” he testified. “Sonia (Muniz, Gaxiola’s sister) talked about how Sandra enlisted her side-by-side in the drug business. There was no sense of okay I’m in this life, but I don’t want my children there. Instead, she is actively incorporating them and making them a part of this.”

Sandra Gaxiola
Cunningham related an incident involving Sandra and her son where he was asked to provide armed support. “She goes into what is potentially a drug deal that is going to go bad, gives him a gun and tells him that if I’m not out in several minutes you come in guns blazing,” he testified. “She came out of the house all smiles and said that everything was fine and that I’m going to party with these guys and you can go on.”


During cross-examination, Deputy County Attorney Rick Unklesbay asked Cunningham if he sat down with the defendant about his life and the various turns he took while growing up. “I virtually never ask that of a defendant,” Cunningham testified.

“So, you rely on folks that haven’t seen him much in the course of his life, like Sandra who abandoned him at age two and you relied on his father who has seen him twice in his life? You relied on folks that were not around during the course of the commission of this offense to find out what impact Mr. Gaxiola’s past life had on his choices in this case?” Unklesbay asked.

“That’s not correct. I used those individuals to identify the history of damaging factors that were present in his background. Then I used the research to make a connection between those factors and the kinds of behaviors he exhibited in adulthood, including this offense,” Cunningham relied.

“My question is, I think you answered it, my question is not once did you sit down with Mr. Gaxiola and ask him anything about what affect his prior life had on him making choices in May 2009?” Unklesbay asked. “That’s correct,” Cunningham replied. “Not once did you do that?” Unklesbay clarified. “That’s correct,” Cunningham replied, again.

Unklesbay also pointed out that Cunningham had not met Gaxiola until his testimony in court on Tuesday afternoon.

Other resources

Unklesbay also pointed out that Cunningham had not read any police reports, witness statements or other documents related to the deadly home invasion. “I requested of the defense to provide a basic description of what transpired,” he testified.

“From that you have told this jury over the last three hours how it is that you believe Mr. Gaxiola came to make choices at age 42 that put him in the seat that he’s in right now?” Unklesbay asked. “That’s correct,” Cunningham replied.

Testimony by Cunningham is set to resume at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday.