Jury selection in the death-penalty trial of Shawna Forde, accused in a 2009 double-killing in Arivaca, has been postponed until next week.
Although Pima County Superior Court Judge John Leonardo denied a defense request to continue the trial at a hearing Monday, he granted a request Tuesday upon learning a medical issue had arisen in one of the attorneys' families.
In light of the medical issue and the discussions held Monday, Leonardo said he had decided "the atmosphere is not conducive to going forward."
Jury selection will begin next Wednesday.
Defense attorney Jill Thorpe initially asked for a postponement because she feared jurors would draw parallels between the Forde case and the weekend's shooting of several people, including U.S. District Judge John M. Roll and U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Forde is charged with first-degree murder in the May 2009 killings of Raul Flores and his daughter, Brisenia, at their Arivaca home.
Authorities contend Forde thought Flores was a drug dealer and recruited a group to raid his house for drugs, cash and guns to help fund her border protection group.
In both this past weekend's shootings and in the Arivaca case, 9-year-old girls were slain, and the suspects are alleged to have ties to the "ring wing," Thorpe said in her motion to postpone the trial.
Specifically, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik described Forde as "at best, a psychopath" and Jared Lee Loughner as "mentally unbalanced," Thorpe said. Forde was involved in the Minutemen American Defense and writings seized from Loughner's home suggested he has "right wing connections," she added.
At a weekend press conference, Dupnik also referred to Tucson as the "Tombstone of the United States of America" because of the community's wide access to guns, Thorpe said.
"Sheriff Dupnik blamed the nation's vitriolic political rhetoric, saying Arizona has 'become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry," Thorpe said. "Obviously, there are people who would characterize the border-watch movement as motivated by prejudice and bigotry and that their activities usually involve members carrying guns."
The media attention is not likely to wane in the coming days, especially with the upcoming funerals, Thorpe said. All of Arizona's legal community will also likely attend services for Judge Roll, she noted.
Thorpe's motion was filed before President Obama announced his decision to come to Tucson on Wednesday.
"The defense urges that this community - a community who will be deciding Ms. Forde's guilt or innocence, and if convicted whether she should receive the death penalty - needs some time to heal and for any 'dots' that might be connected between the January 8 events and Ms. Forde to subside," Thorpe wrote in her motion.
Defense attorney Eric Larsen said he told the judge during the hearing Monday he, himself, didn't feel emotionally equipped to move forward with the trial as he personally knew Roll.
The attorneys are starting out with 98 prospective jurors as five have been excused for a variety of reasons over the last two days.
Forde's co-defendants, Jason Bush and Albert Gaxiola, are scheduled to go to trial March 15 and June 1, respectively.
Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or email@example.com