Arizona rancher goes on trial for killing migrant

3 weeks ago 22

Arizona-Mexico borderImage source, Getty Images

Image caption,

The shooting took place close to the Arizona-Mexico border.

By Bernd Debusmann Jr

BBC News, Washington

The trial of an Arizona rancher accused of murdering a migrant on his property is due to begin as American voters increasingly focus on issues at the US-Mexico border.

George Alan Kelly, 75, shot and killed the 48-year-old Mexican national on his ranch in January 2023.

His lawyers allege he shot into the air and feared for his family's safety.

Arizona lawmakers have introduced a bill that would allow property owners to shoot trespassers.

Court documents say that Mr Kelly was having a meal with his wife on 30 January 2023 when he spotted a group of five camouflaged men moving through his cattle ranch near Nogales.

His lawyers claim that he was frightened at the time and shot into the air, rather than directly at the migrants.

But prosecutors allege that Mr Kelly recklessly fired an AK-47 rifle at the migrants from a distance of about 295 ft (90m), striking and ultimately killing Mexican citizen Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea. The other migrants escaped unharmed and fled back towards Mexico.

Mr Kelly rejected a plea deal in January that would have seen the charge reduced to negligent homicide in exchange for a guilty plea.

Second-degree murder carries a maximum penalty of 22 years in Arizona. The trial is expected to last a month.

The controversial trial begins just weeks after conservative Arizona lawmakers in the state's House passed legislation that could allow property owners to kill or threaten to kill people using their property to enter the US.

The bill does not specifically mention migrants, but Republican Justin Heap - who sponsored the legislation - said in a February hearing that it would create a legal loophole to help ranchers facing "an increasingly large number of migrants or human traffickers".

Arizona's Democratic Governor, Katie Hobbs, has vowed to veto the bill if it makes it to her desk.

Phoenix representative Analise Ortiz, told NBC last month that the legislation would mean it was "open season on migrants" in Arizona.

"It would give people free rein to execute somebody and it would broaden extrajudicial killings," she said.

Arizona's existing "Castle doctrine" allows property owners to use deadly force only to defend themselves or another person from harm. The current law requires that the intruder to be in a residence or other structure in which people live, rather than on their wider property.

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