Closing arguments set in trial of an Arizona rancher charged in fatal shooting of unarmed migrant

NOGALES, Ariz. (AP) — Closing arguments are expected Thursday in the trial of an Arizona rancher charged with fatally shooting an unarmed migrant on his property near the U.S.-Mexico border last year.

George Alan Kelly, 75, was charged with second-degree murder in the January 30, 2023, shooting of Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea, who lived just south of the border in Nogales, Mexico.

The more than two-week trial included jurors visiting Kelly’s nearly 170-acre (69-hectare) cattle ranch in Nogales, Arizona. Cuen-Buitimea, 48, was in a group of men that Kelly encountered. The other migrants weren’t injured and managed to escape back to Mexico.

The case has attracted national attention as border security continues to be a top issue this election year and garnered sympathy for the rancher from some on the political right. Court records show Cuen-Buitimea had previously entered the U.S. illegally several times and was deported, most recently in 2016.

Prosecutors maintained that Kelly recklessly fired an AK-47 rifle toward the group that was about 100 yards (90 meters) away. Kelly said he fired warning shots in the air, but he didn’t shoot directly at anyone, and he feared for his safety and that of his wife and property.

Defense attorney Brenna Larkin has characterized groups of migrants crossing through Kelly’s property were an increasing concern over the years, prompting him to arm himself constantly for protection.

Kelly had earlier rejected an agreement with prosecutors that would have reduced the charge to one count of negligent homicide if he pleaded guilty.

Kelly was also charged with aggravated assault against another person in the group of about eight people, including a man from Honduras who was living in Mexico and who testified during the trial that he was seeking work in the U.S. that day.

The Associated Press