3rd defendant in Arivaca double-murder case avoids death row

2011-07-15T14:00:00Z 3rd defendant in Arivaca double-murder case avoids death rowKim Smith, Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 15, 2011 2:00 pm  • 

Albert Gaxiola will not be joining Shawna Forde and Jason Bush on death row for his involvement in the May 2009 death of Raul Junior Flores, but the jury could not reach a unanimous decision as to the death of 9-year-old Brisensia Flores.

The Pima County Attorney’s Office must now decide whether they want to empanel a new jury to comtemplate a possible death sentence for Brisenia’s death or let Pima County Superior Court Judge John Leonardo sentence Gaxiola to life with or without the possibility of release.

The jury deliberated around 11 hours before sentencing Gaxiola to life in prison for Junior Flores’ death, but were at a stalemate as to the sentence pertaining to Brisenia.

Gaxiola is also facing additional time for the attempted first-degree murder of Flores’ wife, Gina Gonzalez, and a variety of other charges.

He will be sentenced on those charges Aug. 15.

Gonzalez testified her husband let Forde and Bush, who were pretending to be U.S. Border Patrol agents, into their home around 12:45 a.m. May 30, 2009. She said Bush opened fire when their identities were questioned and Gaxiola came into the home following the shootings while she was on the phone with 911.

On Wednesday, defense attorneys Jack Lansdale and Steve West asked jurors to spare Gaxiola's life. They argued Gaxiola is less culpable than Forde and Bush, and they tried to show through the testimony of mental health experts that the abuse and neglect he suffered as a small child damaged his brain and led him to make poor choices in life.

Several of Gaxiola’s relatives testified Gaxiola is an upbeat, loving, warm-hearted man who spoiled his nieces and nephews.

Deputy Pima County Attorney Rick Unklesbay told the jurors it was Gaxiola who suggested Forde and Bush ought to rob and kill Flores. Gaxiola wanted Flores dead because he was a rival drug smuggler and Forde needed money to fund her Minuteman organization, Unklesbay said.

"Without ( Gaxiola), Junior doesn't become a target. Without him, Brisenia doesn't die," Unklesbay said.

Gaxiola knew Flores’ wife and children were probably home that night, and he didn't care, Unklesbay said.

Unklesbay told the jurors that once Gaxiola became an adult he had to make a choice between leading a law-abiding life or becoming a criminal and he choice the latter, despite spending 15 years with an aunt and uncle who nurtured him and taught him to be respectful, responsible and hard-working.

Forde, 43, and Bush, 36, were convicted and sentenced earlier this year. Bush was given an extra 78 years on the additional charges; Forde received an extra 65 years.

Prosecutors argued for lethal injection 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.

Unklesbay and fellow prosecutor Kellie Johnson presented evidence the trio began talking about their next target within hours of Flores’ death.

Gonzalez told jurors her godmother is Gaxiola's cousin. 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.

In her statement to the jury, Gonzalez said she still has a hard time believing someone she loved and trusted could betray her so.

“My life is ruined. I now know that evil lives among us and it comes in many forms..it can even befriend you, gain your trust and kill your family,” Gonzalez said.

Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or kimsmith@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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