Phoenix, Arizona — Shawna Forde, a leader in the Minutemen border watch movement, has been sentenced to die for the 2009 killings of a Latino father and his 9-year-old daughter in their home.
Forde, 43, was convicted last week of first-degree murder in the deaths of Raul Junior Flores and his daughter, Brisenia Flores. She was also convicted for the attempted murder of Gina Gonzalez, Brisenia’s mother.
Prosecutors argued that Forde plotted the home invasion, believing Flores was a drug dealer. She aimed to steal money to finance activities of the Minuteman American Defense (MAD), a splinter group of the Minutemen, which she founded to report undocumented immigrants to the Border Patrol.
In her testimony, Gina Gonzalez, the only witness in the case, gave a heartbreaking account of the massacre that unfolded May 30, 2009, at her home in Arivaca, Ariz.,13 miles from the Mexican border.
Gonzalez testified that her husband woke her, saying that police was at the door. Their daughter, Brisenia, lay sleeping on the couch with her puppy.
Brisenia Pleaded for Her Life
When Flores opened the door, he saw a woman standing there, accompanied by two men, later identified as Albert Robert Gaxiola and Jason Eugene Bush. They told him they were looking for fugitives. When Flores questioned them, Bush allegedly opened fire, fatally shooting him and injuring Gonzales in the leg.
Gonzalez played dead on the floor, and listened as Brisenia pleaded for her life, only to then hear the shooter reload his gun and kill the little girl. Her other daughter was spending the night at her grandmother’s.
Moments after the intruders left, Gonzalez called 911, but the woman returned with a gunman and told him to finish her off. Gonzalez, though, was able to shoot him in self-defense with a gun she had found in the house.
During the trial, defense attorneys Eric Larsen and Jill Thorpe argued that Gonzalez couldn’t positively identify Forde as the woman who invaded her home, and that prosecutors had no direct evidence to prove Forde was even there that day.
They also said there weren’t fingerprints in the home, or DNA that could tie her to the murders.
But Pima County attorneys’ Rick Unklesbay and Kelly Johnson presented evidence that Forde had attempted to recruit people to go after drug dealers. Text messages left on her phone also implicated her in the murders.
Authorities also presented the jury jewelry that belonged to Gonzalez found in Forde’s possession.
While Flores had a history of drug-related offenses, no drugs were found in the house.
Before the jury imposed the death penalty, they heard arguments from the defense to spare Forde’s life. She was presented as someone who had suffered sexual and physical abuse from one of her husbands. Thorpe argued she suffered a stroke that resulted in brain damage that impacted her judgment, leaving her open to manipulation.
Bush and Gaxiola will be tried later this spring and could also be sentenced to die if found guilty.
The Forde decision comes in the aftermath of January’s deadly public shooting in Tucson that left six people dead, including another 9-year-old girl, and injured 13 people, among them U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.