Mistrial Declared in Case of Arizona Rancher Accused of Murdering Migrant

Mistrial Declared in Case of Arizona Rancher Accused of Murdering Migrant

A judge on Monday declared a mistrial in the case of an Arizona rancher who was accused of murdering an unarmed migrant on his property after he crossed the U.S.-Mexico border last year, in a case that inflamed people on both sides of the national debate over immigration.

The mistrial was declared after jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict during deliberations that began on Thursday. The judge scheduled a hearing for April 29, according to the Arizona Superior Court in Santa Cruz County.

Calls on Monday evening to prosecutors and to Brenna Larkin, a lawyer for Mr. Kelly, were not immediately returned.

Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea was among a group of undocumented migrants who were crossing the high desert in Kino Springs, Ariz., near the border with Mexico on Jan. 30, 2023, when they spotted a Border Patrol vehicle and scattered, according to the authorities.

When two of the men, Mr. Cuen-Buitimea and Daniel Ramirez, ran onto George Alan Kelly’s 170-acre ranch, Mr. Kelly fired his AK-47-style rifle at them, the authorities said. Mr. Cuen-Buitimea 48, who had crossed into the United States from his native Mexico in search of work, was hit in the back, law enforcement officials said.

Hardened immigration critics and conservative ranchers seized on the case, casting Mr. Kelly as the real victim in posts on social media and saying that the episode was evidence of a growing threat to their security and livelihoods. But many in Santa Cruz County were horrified by the killing and viewed the surge in migrants crossing the border as a humanitarian crisis.

Mr. Kelly, 75, pleaded not guilty last March to one count of second-degree murder and one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for endangering Mr. Ramirez. He was released on a $1 million bond.

The jury began deliberating on Thursday at the conclusion of a trial that started in mid-March. Mr. Kelly had previously rejected a plea deal that would have reduced the charges to one count of negligent homicide.

According to The Associated Press, Michael Jette, a deputy Santa Cruz County attorney, said during closing arguments on Thursday that Mr. Kelly, “without verbal warning, without a shout, without any indication,” pointed his gun at Mr. Cuen-Buitimea and shot in his direction “over and over and over again,” firing a total of nine times. Mr. Jette said Mr. Cuen-Buitimea suffered a severed aorta and three broken ribs.

“He says he shot 100 yards over their heads,” Mr. Jette said, according to The A.P. “But he never told law enforcement that he was in fear of his life.”

In court papers and at trial, Ms. Larkin, offered a starkly different account, saying that Mr. Kelly and his wife were eating lunch when they heard a gunshot. Mr. Kelly then saw group of camouflage-clad men with assault rifles crossing his property, according to his lawyer, and he fired a warning shot over their heads after one of the men pointed a rifle at him.

Mr. Jette told the jury that law enforcement officers found no evidence of any rifles or backpacks, or signs that a large group had crossed Mr. Kelly’s property, according to The Arizona Republic.

Ms. Larkin has disputed whether Mr. Kelly fired the fatal shot and has raised the possibility that Mr. Cuen-Buitimea was killed in a gang conflict. On Thursday, she said her client “was in a life-or-death situation” that was “a terrifying scenario” for him, according to The A.P.

“He was confronted with a threat right outside his home,” she said. “He would have been absolutely justified to use deadly force, but he did not.”

Ms. Larkin said Mr. Kelly has become increasingly concerned abut migrant crossings on his property, The A.P. reported, prompting him to arm himself for protection.

Jesus Jiménez contributed reporting.

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