Mother describes border vigilante killings in Arizona
Gina Gonzalez says her 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia Flores, pleaded
for her life. Opening arguments begin in the trial of Shawna Forde of
the Minutemen movement, who is accused in the killing of the girl and
her father.
Shawna Forde

Shawna Forde, center, listens during opening arguments in her murder
trial in Pima County Superior Court in Tucson. The Minutemen member is
accused in the killing of a 9-year-old girl and her father. (Greg
Bryan / Associated Press / January 26, 2011)

By Nicholas Riccardi, Los Angeles Times

January 25, 2011, 8:55 p.m.

Reporting from Tucson —
As her mother tells it, 9-year-old Brisenia Flores had begged the
border vigilantes who had just broken into her house, "Please don't
shoot me."

But they did — in the face at point-blank range, prosecutors allege,
as Brisenia's father sat dead on the couch and her mother lay on the
floor, pretending that she too had been killed in the gunfire. FOR THE
Border vigilante: A story in Wednesday's Section A on the trial of a
border vigilante in Arizona accused of killing a 9-year-old girl and
her father misidentified a defense attorney in the case. It is Eric
Larsen, not Kevin Larson. —

Even as this city continues to mourn the victims in the shooting of
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, another tragedy took center stage Tuesday, as
opening arguments began in the trial of a member of a Minutemen group
accused of killing Brisenia and her father, Raul Flores Jr.

Prosecutors allege that in May 2009, Shawna Forde decided to strike an
odd alliance with drug dealers in southern Arizona: Forde would help
the traffickers ransack their rivals' houses for stashes of drugs and
cash, which could then fund her fledgling group, Minutemen American

She and another border vigilante, dressed in uniforms, identified
themselves as law enforcement officers before bursting into the Flores
home, prosecutors allege. If convicted, Forde could face the death

That second member of Forde's group is scheduled to go on trial next
month, as is the alleged drug dealer with whom prosecutors say the
Minutemen collaborated. But on Tuesday it was the turn of the woman
who prosecutors contend masterminded the attack.

"Shawna Forde organized and planned this event," prosecutor Kellie L.
Johnson told a Pima County Superior Court jury.

Forde's trial was almost delayed by the Giffords shooting. Her
attorneys questioned whether an accused murderer allegedly driven by
right-wing passions could get a fair trial here. The man charged in
the Giffords rampage left behind a trail of writings with no coherent
ideology, but Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik set off a
national firestorm by insisting that Arizona's conservative politics
played a role in that attack.

Forde's lawyer, Kevin Larson, told jurors that there is no evidence
she was in the Flores house during the attack.

"The state will present to you absolutely no witnesses that will put
her in that home on May 30," Larson said. He said his client was
simply guilty of being "an exaggerator extraordinaire" for boasting of
her plans to rob drug smugglers.

Forde spent several years as a bit player in the national Minutemen
movement, a loose-knit affiliation of groups that believe that if the
federal government cannot secure the border, armed citizens should do
the job.

Prosecutors say that in April 2009, Forde told two members of the
movement in Denver that she had linked up with drug dealers in the
tiny town of Arivaca, Ariz., just north of the Mexican border and
about 50 miles southwest of Tucson. She proposed helping the dealers
raid a rival's house, which would be full of drug profits she could
steal, prosecutors allege.

The plan so alarmed the members, prosecutors say, that they contacted
the FBI. But Larson said it was such an obviously outlandish idea that
the FBI did nothing with it.

On Tuesday, Johnson and Brisenia's mother, Gina Gonzalez, outlined the
chilling sequence of events in the attack.

Shortly before 1 a.m. on May 30, 2009, Gonzalez was woken by her
husband, who told her that police seemed to be at the door. The two
went to the front room, where their daughter Brisenia was sleeping on
the couch so she could be close to her new dog.

There were two people in camouflage outside — a short, heavyset woman
who did all the talking and a tall man carrying a rifle and pistol,
his face blackened by greasepaint, Gonzalez said. The woman told them
they were accused of harboring fugitives and needed to open the door.

Once the pair were inside, the man —identified by authorities as Jason
Bush — told Flores, "Don't take this personal, but this bullet has
your name on it," Gonzalez testified Tuesday.

According to testimony, Bush shot Flores, then Gonzalez. Gonzalez was
hit in the shoulder and leg and slumped to the floor. She testified
that she played dead as she heard Bush pump more bullets into her
husband as Brisenia woke up.

"Why did you shoot my dad?" the girl asked, sobbing, according to
Gonzalez's testimony. "Why did you shoot my mom?"

Gonzalez said she heard Bush slowly reload his gun and that he then
ignored Brisenia's pleas and fired.

More men entered the house and ransacked the place. After they left,
Gonzalez called 911. On a tape of the recording, played for the jury
Tuesday, she suddenly realized that the attackers were returning, and
crawled to the kitchen to grab her husband's gun.

Prosecutors say Bush came back in and fired on Gonzalez, who returned
fire and apparently hit him, forcing him to retreat.

Gonzalez testified that the woman in the house looked like Forde, but
she said she couldn't definitively say it was her "because I don't
know her personally." She failed to identify Forde in a police lineup
after the shooting.

Forde had Gonzalez's wedding ring and jewelry with her when she was
arrested days after the shooting, authorities say. Shortly after her
arrest, members of the Minutemen movement disavowed her, saying they
did not trust her and that she had stayed on its fringes.

Copyright © 2011, Los Angeles Times

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