An Arivaca man was convicted today of being behind a May 2009 home invasion that resulted in the death of a former friend and the friend's 9-year-old daughter.
It took a Pima County jury five hours to convict Albert Gaxiola, 44, of first-degree murder in the deaths of Raul Junior Flores, 29, and Brisenia Flores. He was also convicted this afternoon of attempting to murder Flores' wife, Gina Gonzalez, and one count each of burglary, armed robbery and aggravated robbery; and two counts of aggravated assault.
Jurors must now decide if the circumstances of the case warrant consideration of the death penalty. If they say "Yes," defense attorneys will present mitigation evidence over the next several days.
Prosecutors Rick Unklesbay and Kellie Johnson would argue Gaxiola should join co-defendants Shawna Forde, 43, and Jason Bush, 36, on death row because of Brisenia Flores' age, the fact more than one murder and serious crime was committed during the same event and the motive was monetary.
Gonzalez told jurors her godmother is Gaxiola's cousin and while she first met him in 2004, didn't become friends with him until 2007. She and her husband would have Gaxiola over for dinner or meet him for drinks up until the fall of 2008 when her husband had a falling out with him, Gonzalez said.
Her daughters "loved him" and he professed his love for them, Gonzalez testified.
That once close relationship didn't stop Gaxiola from placing Junior Flores on a hit list of rival drug smugglers, Pima County prosecutors Rick Unklesbay and Kellie Johnson told jurors.
Gaxiola got permission from a higher up to kill Junior Flores, his brother, Victor Flores, and a handful of others in the Arivaca area, the prosecutors said.
Gaxiola then enlisted the help of Forde, who wanted to use any drugs and money found in the various targets' homes to fund her Minuteman organization.
Forde recruited Bush, who claimed to have a military background, to help.
Gonzalez testified her husband let Forde and Bush into their home shortly before 1 a.m. May 30, 2009, believing them to be U.S. Border Patrol agents.
In the course of just a few minutes, Bush opened fire on the family and Gonzalez wounded Bush in a shoot-out.
After Bush fled, Gonzales told jurors, a man who reminded her of Gaxiola stuck his head in momentarily, saw her on the phone with 911 and fled.
During the 11-day trial, the prosecutors used DNA evidence, text messages, items seized from Gaxiola's house and the testimony of Oin Oakstar to prove his involvement in the case.
Oakstar testified he was part of the plot to kill Flores, but backed out the night of the slayings.
Gaxiola's defense attorneys, Jack Lansdale and Steve West, told jurors Gaxiola was at home at the time of the slayings and then drove to Tucson, arriving at 2:30 a.m. They attempted to use cell phone tower records to prove his movements throughout the early morning hours of May 30.
They pointed out inconsistencies in Gonzalez's testimony and elicited testimony from a memory expert, who said people's memories are often tainted by outside influences, such as stress and detectives.
The defense also called into question Oakstar's testimony, pointing out his history of mental health issues, drug addiction and criminal behavior.