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Defense begins its case in rancher’s murder trial

Prosecution rested its case midday Wednesday
Posted: 5:56 PM, Apr 16, 2024
Updated: 2024-04-16 21:17:15-04

NOGALES, Ariz. (KGUN) — In Nogales, the prosecution has rested its case in the second degree murder trial of George Alan Kelly. Kelly is charged with recklessly shooting a Mexican national crossing his ranch. Kelly’s lawyers spent the morning trying to show investigators thought Kelly was guilty from the very beginning.

Kelly’s attorneys say he heard a shot, and fired a shot over the heads of a group of five men who had rifles and large backpacks. But the lead detective on the case says there’s no evidence of a five-person group, nor evidence that anyone other than Kelly fired a gun that day. The detective says he thinks Kelly deliberately aimed towards the man who died.

Defense attorney Kathy Lowthorp has suggested again and again that George Alan Kelly did not fire the shot that killed Gabriel Cuen Buitema. She’s suggested the victim was involved in smuggling and that other smugglers shot him to steal money, drugs or guns.

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Jorge Ainza is the lead detective. He told Kelly’s attorney he believes Kelly deliberately pointed at the victim —and there is nothing to back up Lowthorp’s suggestion bandits are really the ones who shot Buitema.

“There is no other shot involved in this. The victim sustained a serious injury from a high powered rifle, an AK-47 rifle with a trajectory directly from Mr Kelly’s residence.”

Investigators say they found nine shell casings outside Kelly’s house, in a pattern consistent with shots fired toward the dead man.

There is no ballistics test to match the fatal bullet to Kelly’s gun. The bullet went through the victim and was never recovered.


A Border Patrol agent testified Kelly called him, said he was being shot and and he was shooting back, but Detective Ainza says Kelly never told him he shot his rifle at all until Ainza was a half hour into a formal interrogation with him.
Now that the prosecution has rested, Kelly’s lawyers are presenting their case. They have called David Hathaway, Santa Cruz County’s elected sheriff. Hathaway and one of his detectives went into Mexico to interview a witness who says he saw Gabriel Cuen Buitema shot and killed.

Judge Thomas Fink expects final arguments in the case Thursday. That could allow jury deliberations to begin later that day.

Craig Smith is a reporter for KGUN 9. With more than 40 years of reporting in cities like Tampa, Houston and Austin, Craig has covered more than 40 Space Shuttle launches and covered historic hurricanes like Katrina, Ivan, Andrew and Hugo. Share your story ideas and important issues with Craig by emailing or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.