Closings Completed In Border Group Leader's Trial

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - Attorneys finished closing arguments Thursday in the murder case against an anti-illegal immigrant group leader who is accused of gunning down a 9-year-old girl and her father in what prosecutors say was an attempt to steal drug money to fund border operations.

Shawna Forde pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder in the May 2009 killings of 29-year-old Raul Flores and his 9-year-old daughter at their home in Arivaca, a desert community about 50 miles southwest of Tucson and 10 miles north of the Mexican border.

Prosecutor Rick Unklesbay argued that phone calls and text messages sent by Forde clearly show she was responsible, while defense attorney Eric Larsen said they proved she had nothing to hide and should be found not guilty.

The jury could begin deliberations Thursday or Friday and could make a decision as early as Friday. If the jury convicts Forde, prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty.

The 42-year-old Forde is the leader of the Minutemen American Defense, a small border watch group, and prosecutors contend that she planned the attack to help fund her anti-immigrant operations.

Authorities allege that she and two men dressed as law enforcement officers forced their way into Flores' home, and then shot him, his daughter Brisenia and his wife, Gina Gonzalez, who survived her injuries.

Flores was believed to be involved with drug trafficking, police say, but officers don't think the assailants found much cash or drugs in the home.

Forde sat quietly in court Thursday, but smiled and joked with others during a break. Just after the closing arguments wrapped up, she turned to a man sitting in the courtroom and put her hand up to her forehead and mouthed, "Phew."

Larsen told jurors that the prosecution made his closing argument for him.

"The first words they said: 'Taken in the context ...'" he said. "The only way that you get beyond a reasonable doubt is if there's only one context."

Larsen said a recorded phone conversation following the killings with a friend of Forde's who was cooperating with the FBI shows she wasn't involved in the home invasion.

She said "I don't know anything other than I'm trying to chase the cartels and the illegals, but home invasions and (stuff) like that, sorry - that's not up my alley," Forde said during the call, according to Larsen.

"This is a woman with something to hide from the police?" Larsen said

Larsen also tried to cast doubt about whether Forde was in the home at the time of the killings, pointing the blame at the girlfriend of another man accused in the crime.

"The state's hour-and-10-minute argument to you was about everything in the doughnut, but not what fills the doughnut hole," he said. "The state did not meet its burden."

Unklesbay said text messages sent by Forde show she's guilty, pointing to a message sent to her daughter five hours after the killings that said: "I am knee-deep. Make something of your life and make me proud."

He said Forde also was recorded talking about how she was with fellow suspect Jason Bush when he was shot, only making up another story about how he was injured, saying: "We were running through the bush being chased by cartels."

"It's the words of the defendant herself," Unklesbay said.

He referred to another recorded conversation in which Forde says to a friend that they can't stay in Arivaca, "because that's where the targets are."

"The law is clear," Unklesbay told jurors. "She didn't put a gun to Brisenia's head ... but she was the one in charge. Because of that you must hold her accountable."

A 911 recording released by the Pima County Sheriff's Office in 2009 captures Gonzalez pleading for help after her husband and daughter were shot. She is heard crying out in pain from a gunshot wound and then becoming frantic as the attackers return.

The sound of nine gunshot wounds is heard as Gonzalez engages in a gunbattle with the intruders. "Oh my God, I can't believe they killed my family," Gonzalez says on the recording.

Police say Gonzalez shot and wounded one of her alleged attackers, Jason Eugene Bush, who officers believe was the gunman.

Forde is accused of being the ringleader, and another man, Albert Robert Gaxiola, allegedly provided information about the local area. Bush and Gaxiola go on trial in the spring.

Before coming to Arizona, Forde lived in Everett, Wash., where she ran for the city council in 2007, promising to allow police to check the immigration status of suspects, according to local news accounts.

Chris Simcox, founder of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, previously told The Associated Press that his group kicked Forde out in 2007 amid allegations of lying and pretending to be a senior leader, and that Forde began her own group, bragging that it would be going after drug cartels. That claim made him worry about the safety of other Minutemen, he said.

"We knew that Shawna Forde was not just an unsavory character but pretty unbalanced, as well," Simcox said.