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Jury deliberations begin in Santa Cruz County rancher's murder trial

Closing arguments taking place Thursday
Posted: 2:10 PM, Apr 18, 2024
Updated: 2024-04-18 20:52:33-04

NOGALES, Ariz. (KGUN) — The jury will now consider guilt or innocence for George Alan Kelly: Was Kelly guilty and evasive about shooting and killing a Mexican national crossing his ranch, or just a man confused by fear who didn't shoot anyone?

Those are the views from prosecution and defense in final arguments in Kelly's trial for second degree murder.


Kelly is charged with second degree murder in the death of Gabriel Cuen Buitimea who, with another man, was headed south back towards Mexico on Kelly's ranch land, trying to avoid Border Patrol.

Kelly’s defense team says he heard a shot and saw men with guns and backpacks he assumed were drug loads—and that he fired warning shots to drive them away.

PREVIOUS TRIAL COVERAGE: Defense in rancher murder trial rests without George Alan Kelly taking stand

Before final statements began Judge Thomas Fink gave instructions that include when circumstances justify shooting in self defense. They consider how close and credible a threat might be.

Prosecutor Mike Jette told jurors the victim was a long way from Kelly.

“Defendant sees Gabriel and Daniel running back to Mexico. Not just running back to Mexico, 115 yards from his property, beyond two fence lines,” Jette stated during his closing.

Jette reminded jurors about a long line of law enforcement witnesses who testified Kelly’s story kept changing, with the number of intruders ranging from a handful to up to 15 men. Sometimes he said he saw multiple guns, sometimes he said he couldn’t tell if there were guns or not.

Jette said Kelly did not even tell deputies he had fired his gun until late in the day, a half hour into a formal interrogation.

Kelly’s attorney Brenna Larkin told jurors Kelly told a Border Patrol agent he had fired his gun and assumed the agent told other investigators. She said there’s no firm forensics that tie Kelly's gun to the victim. The bullet went through the man and was never recovered.

The defense has suggested border bandits shot and robbed Buitimea for money and drugs.

Larkin says Kelly was the one who reported the dead body and if Kelly told conflicting stories, it was because of fear and stress.

"Imagine anyone in his situation, where you fired shots and you know you didn’t shoot this person but you know you fired shots," Larkin said during closing arguments. "That is scary.”

Kelly’s lawyer told jurors investigators decided early on that Kelly was guilty and warped their investigation to prove he was the killer.

The jury in George Alan Kelly's second-degree murder trial began deliberations late Thursday afternoon.

The attorneys have said these jurors do seem very attentive and detail oriented. One of their last actions for the day was to request a list of all the evidence items.

At this stage, jurors set their own schedule. They headed home for the night around 4:30 p.m. and will come back to continue deliberations in the morning.

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.