(pool photo by Benjie
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 from the defendant’s estranged father Friday morning.
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, Jason Eugene Bush and Shawna 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.
Robert Gaxiola, 65, was born in Hollister, Calif., and currently lives and works in that community. He testified that he met his son’s mother in Fresno, Calif., when he was 19-years-old. “Sonia was three-months old,” he said. The jury heard, Thursday, from Sonia Muniz.
Gaxiola was asked to describe Sandra Sanchez, the mother of his son, Albert Gaxiola. “To put it bluntly, she as a liar, a cheat and you could trust her,” he testified.
Gaxiola was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1967 when his son was about a year old. He avoided service in Vietnam, but he was stationed in Germany for a while. Gaxiola received word through the Red Cross that he needed to head to Portland, Ore. due to a medical emergency involving Sandra. “They said my wife was pregnant and she had gonorrhea, the gonorrhea was hitting the baby and that she needed an abortion and they needed my signature for the abortion,” he testified.
It didn’t take Gaxiola long to figure out that the child in question was not his. “On the plane I did the math. I had been in Germany for six months and she was almost five months pregnant,” he testified. “I ended up not going to Portland.”
Instead, Gaxiola got off the plane in San Jose went absent without leave (AWOL) from the army. “I started drinking and did some drugs,” he said.
Gaxiola got into a fight with a number of people and was arrested. While in custody the military police took custody of him for being AWOL. He ended up initially in the stockade at Fort Ord, Calif. “I was there for about three days and then I escaped,” he testified. “You escaped from an army stockade?” Lansdale asked. “Yes, I did,” Gaxiola replied. “I escaped twice.”
When his son, Albert, was about two-years-old, Gaxiola made contact with his former wife who was living in Fresno at the time. He was not allowed to visit with his children. “She talked to me through a cracked door,” he said.
Eventually, Gaxiola discovered that his children were living with Tony and Sylvia Loera who allowed him to visit. Gaxiola took his two sons, Albert and Kevin, and his stepdaughter, Sonia, to the zoo. Gaxiola returned Sonia and Kevin to the Loeras, but he kidnapped Albert, taking him to his home in San Jose. “They called the cops on me,” he said.
Life took unfortunate turns for Gaxiola after the failed kidnapping attempt. “I started using heroin,” he testified.
Gaxiola was charged over the years with “two assaults and two possessions” doing some time in prison. “I’m a third striker,” he said.
Gaxiola was acquitted on an assault charge that arose out of a fight in bar. He was found guilty on drug possession charges thus he faced a sentence of life in prison with the opportunity to apply for parole after serving 25 years, but the judge sentenced him to time served less three days. “He sent me to San Quentin for three days,” he testified.
Over the years, Gaxiola has been wounded during the trouble he has been a part of. “I was shot once and stabbed 12 times. I had my head busted I don’t know how many times,” he testified. He said he stopped using heroin in 1994 and has been clean for almost 17 years.
Gaxiola testified that he had lost contact with his son over the years. “I had no idea where he was,” he said.
Gaxiola said investigators working on his son’s behalf found him and asked that he testify. Before that Gaxiola came to Tucson to meet with his son at the Pima County Adult Detention Center. “I came in January and had a visit,” he said.
When asked what his son’s execution would mean Gaxiola broke down. “I just found him. I don’t want to lose him,” he said, through a choking voice.
Prior to the afternoon session of court, Gaxiola was observed sitting on a bench in the courthouse hallway speaking with the surviving victim in the case, Gina Gonzalez. It appeared that they had a pleasant conversation although her parents appeared to be uneasy regarding the encounter.