A Pima County jury convicted Shawna Forde today of two counts of first-degree murder in the May 30, 2009 deaths of Arivaca residents Raul Junior Flores and his 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia.
The jury also convicted Forde of attempted first-degree murder in the shooting of Flores' wife, Gina Gonzalez, as well as related aggravated assault and robbery counts.
Gonzlez started crying as soon as the first guilty verdict, the killing of her daughter, was read just before noon in a packed courtroom at Pima County Superior Court.
The jury deliberated for seven hours over two days. Jurors will now be asked if the death penalty ought to be considered.
On the first day of the trial, which has gained national attention, Gonzalez testified her husband woke her to say the police were at the door. The woman at the door identified herself and the man with her as law enforcement officers looking for fugitives, Gonzalez said.
When her husband questioned the veracity of their story, Gonzalez said the gunman opened fire, shooting her husband and Gonzalez. As Gonzalez played dead on the floor, the gunman fired two bullets into their youngest daughter's head, despite the little girl's pleas. Their oldest daughter was spending the night at her grandmother's house.
Moments after the couple and two accomplices left, Gonzalez testified the woman returned to find her on the phone with 911 and called out to the gunman to finish her off. Gonzalez said she fled to the kitchen, armed herself and fired back when the gunman tried to kill her again. He then fled.
Forde, Jason Bush, 36, and Albert Gaxiola, 44, were arrested within two weeks of the slayings. Bush, the alleged gunman, and Gaxiola are scheduled to go to trial March 15 and June 1, respectively.
Prosecutors Rick Unklesbay and Kellie Johnson presented evidence they said showed Forde recruited Gaxiola, Bush and others to rob Flores because she suspected he was a drug smuggler and she needed a way to fund her Minuteman American Defense border organization.
They put a handful of witnesses on the stand who testified Forde either recruited them or spoke to them of their plans. The prosecutors also presented incriminating text messages and tape-recorded phone conversations.
After the slayings, Forde and Bush told various people Bush was shot by border bandits on May 30, 2009, but Bush's blood was found at the Flores' house, in the getaway vehicle and on a pair of woman's boots found at Gaxiola's house leading authorities to believe one of Gonzalez's bullets found its target.
Forde's DNA was also found on an item of jewelry belonging to Gonzalez and found in Forde's Honda Element after the slayings.
In addition, the prosecutors gave jurors letters Forde wrote while in jail encouraging her son and another man to testify they had given her the jewelry prior to the slayings.
Defense attorneys Eric Larsen and Jill Thorpe told jurors that while Forde may have bragged about taking down drug smugglers, the state had absolutely no proof she was in the house or getaway vehicle that night. There were no credible eyewitnesses, DNA, fingerprints, footprints or fiber evidence linking Forde to the crime, they said.
The attorneys suggested Gaxiola's girlfriend, Gina Moraga, was the woman home invader.
Moraga had helped Gaxiola and another man steal between 400 to 500 pounds of marijuana from Flores a few months prior to his death, she wears the same size shoes as the bloody ones found at Gaxiola's house and she somewhat resembled the description provided by Gonzalez, the attorneys said.
Jurors must now decide if the facts of the case warrant the possibility of the death penalty.
If they unanimously say "Yes," both sides will begin presenting evidence as to why Forde should or should not be executed.
Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or firstname.lastname@example.org