Trial starts for Arizona border rancher charged with killing migrant on his property

PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona rancher went on trial Friday in the fatal shooting of a migrant on his property near Mexico as the national debate over border security heats up ahead of this year’s presidential election.

George Alan Kelly, 75, has been charged with second−degree murder in the killing of a man he encountered on his property outside Nogales, Arizona. The jury trial in Santa Cruz County Superior Court is expected to last up to a month.

Kelly had earlier rejected a plea deal that would have reduced the charge to one count of negligent homicide if he pleaded guilty.

He was arrested and charged last year in the Jan. 30, 2023, shooting of 48−year−old Gabriel Cuen−Buitimea of adjacent Nogales, Mexico, just south of the border.

Kelly shot at a group of unarmed migrants who were walking through his nearly 170−acre (69−hectare) cattle ranch in the Kino Springs area, and Cuen−Buitimea was among them, authorities said.

Prosecutors have said Kelly recklessly fired an AK−47 rifle toward the migrants, who were about 100 yards (90 meters) away from him.

Kelly’s lawyer has said her client shot into the air above the migrants and he feared for his safety and that of his wife and the property.

The other migrants weren’t injured and managed to escape back to Mexico.

Cuen−Buitimea also entered the U.S. illegally several times and was convicted and deported, most recently in 2016, court records show.

The case is being watched closely by the Mexican consulate in Nogales, Arizona, which has been in contact with the victim’s family.

The shooting sparked strong political feelings about border security issues less than six months after a prison warden and his brother were arrested in a West Texas shooting that killed one migrant and wounded another. Twin brothers Michael and Mark Sheppard, both 60, were charged with manslaughter in the September 2022 shooting in El Paso County.

The brothers pulled over their truck near a town about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the border and opened fire on a group of migrants getting water along the road. A male migrant died, and a female suffered a gunshot wound to the stomach, authorities said.

Florida news media reported last fall that the brothers were out on bond and living in the state.

Border security is a key issue in this year’s presidential contest with Republican Donald Trump and Democratic President Joe Biden making dueling visits to the Texas−Mexico border in late February.

Anita Snow, The Associated Press

Photo: 40 kilometers