Arizona Rancher's Murder Trial Ends in Mistrial After Jury Deadlock

The trial of Arizona rancher George Alan Kelly for the fatal shooting of a Mexican national ends in a mistrial, sparking a debate on border security and immigration.

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Ayesha Mumtaz
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Arizona Rancher's Murder Trial Ends in Mistrial After Jury Deadlock

Arizona Rancher's Murder Trial Ends in Mistrial After Jury Deadlock

The murder trial of Arizona rancher George Alan Kelly ended in a mistrial on April 24, 2023, after the jury failed to reach a verdict following days of deliberation. Kelly, 75, was charged with second-degree murder for the January 2023 fatal shooting of Mexican national Gabriel Cuen Buitimea on his Keno Springs cattle ranch, as well as aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

The nearly monthlong trial began on March 22 and lasted nearly four weeks, with the jury hearing testimony from 32 witnesses. After about 16 hours of deliberation over three days, the eight-person jury announced they could not reach a unanimous verdict, prompting the judge to declare a mistrial. The jury was instructed to decide whether to convict Kelly of second-degree murder or lesser charges of manslaughter or negligent homicide.

Prosecutors alleged that Kelly recklessly fired nine shots from an AK-47 rifle toward a group of men, including the unarmed Cuen-Buitimea, about 100 yards away on his property. Kelly claimed he only fired warning shots into the air to protect himself and his wife, and did not shoot directly at anyone. However, authorities were unable to find the bullet that struck Cuen-Buitimea, and the defense claimed he was shot by another person in the group.

The case lacked conclusive evidence, as there was no bullet recovered to match to Kelly's rifle, and Kelly gave conflicting accounts of the incident. The trial included testimony from a migrant who was with Cuen-Buitimea, as well as evidence of text messages allegedly sent by Kelly that prosecutors claimed showed his state of mind in the weeks before the shooting.

Why this matters: The trial coincided with a presidential election year that has drawn widespread interest in border security. The case has inflamed the national debate over immigration, with hardened immigration critics and conservative ranchers supporting Kelly, while many in the local community viewed the incident as a humanitarian crisis.

The Santa Cruz County Attorney's Office will now decide whether to retry Kelly for murder, a lesser charge, or drop the case altogether. A status hearing is scheduled for April 29, 2023, when prosecutors will inform the judge if they plan to refile the case. The Mexican Consul General in Nogales expressed hope that the state will re-try the case, while Kelly's defense attorney stated that the mistrial was caused by one holdout juror who believed Kelly to be guilty, while the other seven jurors wanted to vote for acquittal.

Key Takeaways

  • Arizona rancher George Alan Kelly's murder trial ended in a mistrial.
  • Kelly was charged with second-degree murder for a migrant's fatal shooting.
  • Jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict after 16 hours of deliberation.
  • Prosecutors allege Kelly recklessly fired at a group, defense claims otherwise.
  • Prosecutors will decide whether to retry Kelly or drop the case altogether.