Arizona: Border Activist Sentenced to Death
The New York Times
February 22, 2011
A jury in Tucson has sentenced a border activist to
death in the 2009 murder of a young girl and her father. The woman,
Shawna Forde, 43, was convicted of first-degree murder and other
charges in the May 2009 home invasion in Arivaca, a desert community
about 10 miles north of Mexico. Raul Flores, 29, and his daughter,
Brisenia, 9, were killed in the robbery. Prosecutors said Ms. Forde
and accomplices considered Mr. Flores a drug smuggler and wanted to
use his drug proceeds for a paramilitary organization to seal off the
border to immigrants.
Murders of Raul and Brisenia
On May 30, 2009, Raul "Junior" Flores, 29, and his
daughter, Brisenia, 9, of Arivaca, Arizona, were murdered during a
home-invasion by Shawna Forde and accomplices.
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said the
attackers hoped to rob the Flores-Gonzalez family. Forde and her
accomplices believed that it was their duty to kill the family as they
were trying to protect the U.S.-Mexican border from illegal
immigrants; Raul and Brisenia Flores, who died, as well as Gina
Gonzalez, who survived, were all natural-born U.S. citizens.
Gina Marie Gonzalez, 31, Junior's wife, was in the
home during the attack. Gonzalez called 911 emergency services when
the assailants left the home for a few moments. While Gonzalez was on
the phone, the assailants reentered the home and Gonzalez fired a
handgun of her husband's, wounding one of the assailants. Gonzalez
identified two men, one "white," the other "Mexican," and a white
woman as her attackers. Gonzales said it was the white man who had
murdered her daughter and husband.
An early exchange within the 911 call is as
Gonzalez: "They shot me and I pretended
like I was dead. My daughter was crying. They shot her, too.
Operator: "Are they still there, the people who, that shot
Gonzalez: "They're coming back in! They're coming back in!"
Another Flores daughter, 12, had been at her
grandmother's home in Sahuarita, Arizona, during the attack.
Shawna Forde (born (1967-12-06)
December 6, 1967 ),
was convicted of this crime and sentenced to death. She was a member
of the anti-illegal immigration group, Minutemen Civil Defense Corps.
She later founded, and was Executive Director for, a splinter group,
the Minutemen American Defense (M.A.D.), to pursue her political
goals. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik alleged that Forde planned
and ordered the murder of Junior Flores.
Shawna Forde and her supporters maintain her
innocence, claiming racial profiling and improper investigatory work.
Forde alleged that she had been the promoter of a
grunge rock band; worked as a youth counselor, aircraft factory
worker, and as a cosmetologist and esthetician. Forde ran
unsuccessfully for a seat on the Everett, Washington City Council in
Forde had several run-ins with law enforcement
prior to her arrest for the double murder. Court records show that she
served time in juvenile lock-ups for repeated convictions involving
theft, burglary and prostitution. Forde has married four times. In
1989, her boyfriend sought court protection from her, claiming that
she had physically attacked him and threatened to hurt herself with a
knife. In 2007, she was charged with theft, which Forde described as a
misunderstanding. While running for the Everett City Council, her son
was convicted of assaulting her employer. In January 2008, Forde
accused members of a drug cartel of sexually assaulting and shooting
her; however, she later suggested the alleged culprits were actually
criminal associates of her son. Forde's brother alleged that she
fabricated the story, and authorities closed the case due to
Since 2007, she had been involved in vigilante
activities and later joined the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps.
However, she was asked to leave the organization in February 2007
after members described her as being "unstable." Forde later founded a
splinter group, the Minutemen American Defense (M.A.D.) organization,
which had 14 members at the time of the raid on the Flores family
On February 14, 2011, Shawna Forde was found guilty
of all eight counts for which she was being prosecuted: two counts of
first degree murder for Raul and Brisenia, one count of attempted
first degree murder for Brisenia's mother, Gina Gonzalez, two counts
of aggravated assault and one count each of burglary, armed robbery,
and aggravated robbery. On February 22, 2011, she was sentenced to
death by a Tucson jury, becoming the 3rd woman on Arizona's death row.
Jason Eugene "Gunny" Bush (born LaGrande, Oregon
August 11, 1974 ),
of Meadview, Arizona, is M.A.D.'s National Director of Operations.
Bush was shot in the leg during the same time frame as the attack.
Bush is Forde's second in command. He has ties to
the Aryan Nation and was also charged in June 2009 with the 1997
murder of Hector Lopez Partida in Wenatchee, Washington. He is also
charged with the Sept. 1997 execution styled killing of his Aryan
Nation associate, Jonathan Bumstead, also of Wenatchee, WA for
supposedly committing the "crime" of "being a 'race-traitor'". Later
in 1997, Bush was imprisoned for the theft of a car and for his
possession of a firearm (unlawful because Bush was already a felon,
from a previous conviction). After he was released in 2003, Bush moved
to Sandpoint, Idaho, where he lived until 2007. Bush is also suspected
in at least 2 additional killings during the latter part of 1997.
According to information that was provided to Washington state
detectives, Bush is alleged to have, on two separate instances, shown
up at acquaintances residences covered in blood, and asking to be
allowed to clean up there, as he had "just finished taking care of
some business." Detectives are currently attempting to find any links
to unresolved cases.
In April 2011, Bush was sentenced to the death
penalty for the murders of Junior and Brisenia Flores, and in May
2011, received another 78 years for other crimes.
Albert Robert Gaxiola (born
February 9, 1967 ),
of Arivaca, Arizona, is believed to have provided intelligence about
drug activities in the area to the M.A.D. Gaxiola had been imprisoned
on marijuana charges from 1992 to 2000.
According to Gonzalez, Gaxiola and Flores had an
on-going dispute that had originated in 2008 over marijuana belonging
to Gaxiola that had been stored at Flores's residence. The head of the
Tucson office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Anthony
Coulson, told the Arizona Daily Star, "Raul Flores was a
drug-trafficker." Today, the DEA declines to comment on Mr. Flores.
Albert Gaxiola was found guilty of the murders and
sentenced to life without parole plus 54 years.
Alleged involvement of Minutemen American
Minutemen American Defense is a militant nativist
splinter group founded in the late 2000s by Forde, after she was
expelled from the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps. Various Forde family
members and some of Forde's associates said that Forde began to rob
presumed drug dealers in 2009, in hopes of raising funds to benefit
her vigilante group. Chuck Stonex, of Alamogordo, New Mexico, a former
member who quit the organization after Forde's arrest, says that
M.A.D. had about 14 members and that Forde termed its covert missions
"Delta One Operations." Stonex said Forde intended to fund the
purchase of a 40-acre (16 ha) property in southern Arizona where she
had intended to establish a base for her group's border operations.
Death Sentence for Arizona Minuteman Who Killed
Girl and Dad
February 22, 2011
PHOENIX, Ariz.—Shawna Forde, a leader in the
Minutemen border watch movement, has been sentenced to die for the
2009 killings of a Latino father and his 9-year-old daughter in their
Forde, 43, was convicted last week of
first-degree murder in the deaths of Raul Junior Flores and his
daughter, Brisenia Flores. She was also convicted for the attempted
murder of Gina Gonzalez, Brisenia’s mother.
Prosecutors argued that Forde plotted the home
invasion, believing Flores was a drug dealer. She aimed to steal money
to finance activities of the Minuteman American Defense (MAD), a
splinter group of the Minutemen, which she founded to report
undocumented immigrants to the Border Patrol.
In her testimony, Gina Gonzalez, the only
witness in the case, gave a heartbreaking account of the massacre that
unfolded May 30, 2009, at her home in Arivaca, Ariz.,13 miles from the
Gonzalez testified that her husband woke her,
saying that police was at the door. Their daughter, Brisenia, lay
sleeping on the couch with her puppy.
Brisenia Pleaded for Her Life
When Flores opened the door, he saw a woman
standing there, accompanied by two men, later identified as Albert
Robert Gaxiola and Jason Eugene Bush. They told him they were looking
for fugitives. When Flores questioned them, Bush allegedly opened
fire, fatally shooting him and injuring Gonzales in the leg.
Gonzalez played dead on the floor, and
listened as Brisenia pleaded for her life, only to then hear the
shooter reload his gun and kill the little girl. Her other daughter
was spending the night at her grandmother’s.
Moments after the intruders left, Gonzalez
called 911, but the woman returned with a gunman and told him to
finish her off. Gonzalez, though, was able to shoot him in
self-defense with a gun she had found in the house.
During the trial, defense attorneys Eric
Larsen and Jill Thorpe argued that Gonzalez couldn’t positively
identify Forde as the woman who invaded her home, and that prosecutors
had no direct evidence to prove Forde was even there that day.
They also said there weren’t fingerprints in
the home, or DNA that could tie her to the murders.
But Pima County attorneys’ Rick Unklesbay and
Kelly Johnson presented evidence that Forde had attempted to recruit
people to go after drug dealers. Text messages left on her phone also
implicated her in the murders.
Authorities also presented the jury jewelry
that belonged to Gonzalez found in Forde’s possession.
While Flores had a history of drug-related
offenses, no drugs were found in the house.
Before the jury imposed the death penalty,
they heard arguments from the defense to spare Forde’s life. She was
presented as someone who had suffered sexual and physical abuse from
one of her husbands. Thorpe argued she suffered a stroke that resulted
in brain damage that impacted her judgment, leaving her open to
Bush and Gaxiola will be tried later this
spring and could also be sentenced to die if found guilty.
The Forde decision comes in the aftermath of
January’s deadly public shooting in Tucson that left six people dead,
including another 9-year-old girl, and injured 13 people, among them
U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.
Arizona vigilante found guilty of murdering
Latino man, daughter
February 15, 2011
An Arizona jury on Monday convicted anti-illegal
immigration activist Shawna Forde of murder in the killing of a Latino
man and his 9-year-old daughter during a 2009 vigilante raid she led
on their home.
The Pima County jury convicted Forde on eight
counts, including two counts of murder for the shooting deaths of Raul
Flores and his daughter, Brisenia, and the attempted murder of the
child's mother, Gina Gonzales, at the family's rural Arivaca home on
May 30, 2009.
The child and her father were American-born U.S.
The jury also convicted Forde on two counts of
aggravated assault, and one count each of burglary, armed robbery and
The jury is scheduled to return Tuesday for the
penalty phase of the trial.
Forde's alleged accomplices, Albert Robert Gaxiola
and Jason Eugene Bush, are scheduled to go on trial later this year.
During the trial, prosecutors portrayed Forde as
the ringleader of the hit squad, and said she had planned the raid and
the murders to steal weapons, money and drugs to finance a new
anti-illegal immigration outfit.
The trio picked the Flores home, prosecutors said,
because of a claim made by Gaxiola they would find drugs there.
While Flores had a history of drug-related
offenses, none were found in the house.
Posing as border patrol and law enforcement
officers, Forde, Gaxiola and Bush, whom prosecutors identified as the
gunman, showed up at the Flores home after midnight, several hours
after the family had returned from a shopping trip in Tucson to buy
shoes for their daughter for summer camp.
Brisenia Flores was sleeping on the couch with her
puppy when the killers demanded to be let into the home. They accused
Flores of harboring illegal aliens and said the house was surrounded
Once inside, the gunman shot Flores in the chest
and Gonzales in the leg. Later Brisenia was shot as she pleaded for
Jewelry taken from the Flores home was later found
in Forde's possession. Text messages discovered on her phone also
implicated her in the crime.
Forde once belonged to the Minuteman Civil Defense
Corps before she was removed for what former fellow members described
as unstable behavior, according to news reports.
Forde then formed a splinter group, Minutemen
American Defense. She led protests against illegal immigration and
patrolled the Arizona-Mexico border armed with weapons.
Bush was the group's national
director of operations, according to reports.
Vigilante Found Guilty of
Murder in Arizona; Could Face Death Penalty
February 14, 2011
PHOENIX, Ariz.—Shawna Forde, the founder of a
vigilante border group, could face the death penalty after she was
found guilty on Monday of killing 9-year-old Bricenia Flores and her
father Raúl Flores in 2009. The jury will begin deliberations on
Tuesday on whether or not to impose capital punishment.
Forde, the 43-year-old leader of Minutemen
American Defense (MAD), a splinter faction of the Minutemen - a
citizen group that patrols the U.S.-Mexico border looking for
undocumented people - had pleaded not guilty to the charges of
first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and home-invasion.
Prosecutors in Pima County accused Forde of
being the intellectual author behind the crime, which entailed
breaking into the Flores home to steal money. Forde claims to have
believed that Raul Flores was involved with drug dealing, and she had
planned to use the stolen money to fund her border vigilante group.
Gina Gonzalez, the mother of 9-year-old victim
Bricenia Flores and the only witness in the case, took the stand and
gave a heartbreaking account of the massacre that unfolded on May 30,
2009, inside her home in Arivaca, Arizona, just 13 miles from the
Gonzalez said she listened as her 9-year-old
daughter Bricenia pleaded for her life, only to then hear the shooter
reload his gun and kill the little girl.
The Forde decision comes in the aftermath of a
deadly public shooting in Tucson that shook the nation last month and
left 6 dead, including another 9-year-old, and 13 more injured, among
them Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
The jury’s decision was an unexpected turn of
events for human rights activists who believe Latinos are facing a
hostile environment in Arizona, a state they say has been welcoming to
extremists and border vigilante groups.
“This is the start of a positive path for our
state,” said Isabel Garcia, director of Derechos Humanos, a human
rights coalition in Tucson, Arizona.
While she was somewhat surprised by the
verdict, Garcia hopes that the highly publicized shooting in Tucson
last January, coupled with comments made by president Barak Obama
during a memorial to the victims, and Pima County Sheriff Clarence
Dupnik's denunciation of what he called a "vitriolic political
rhetoric" in the state, may have made an impression in the minds of
The decision also comes two weeks after the
Ninth Circuit court upheld a previous Arizona jury decision against
rancher Roger Barnett, on a lawsuit that was filed by the Mexican
American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), accusing the
rancher of assault on a group of migrants. The federal court found
that he could not claim self-defense because none of the people he
assaulted had threatened or attacked him. As a result, Barnett was
Civil rights attorney Jesus Romo believes the
Forde decision and the Barnett lawsuit will act as a deterrent for
extreme border vigilante groups that engage in criminal behavior.
“If we link this verdict with the civil cases
I think it’s going to affect the Minutemen because their impunity is
chipping away," said Romo. "On the one hand, criminal justice is
taking care of convicting some of them and on the other through the
civil cases we are hitting their pocket book,” he added.
Carlos Galindo, a pro-immigrant activist and
talk show host on Radio KAZA agrees with Romo, but is not surprised.
He believes the community in Tucson is more
progressive than in Maricopa County, a place he says has become a
“petri dish” of hateful acts being perpetrated against immigrants.
Just last week, a jury in Maricopa County
failed to come to a unanimous decision on the killing of Juan Varela,
a Mexican-American who was allegedly murdered by his neighbor, Gary
Galindo said he was disappointed that justice
was not served in a case that had been labeled by the Maricopa County
attorney’s office as a hate crime. Another trial date for Varela’s
murder will be schedule this week.
If the jury decides that Forde is eligible for
the death penalty, her trial will begin a third phase in which the
defense will present evidence to try to persuade the judge against
using capital punishment. Once the jury returns the final verdict,
there could be a period of 30 days before the judge issues a
The defense is expected to present testimony
on Forde’s character and could also argue that she was a victim of
abuse during her childhood. Prosecutors could put her moral character
“She came onto our radar because she was
increasingly taking more extreme action,” said Marilyn Mayo of the
Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Mayo says Forde formed the more extreme
MAD because she wasn’t satisfied with what other Minutemen groups were
Before the shooting, there were claims that
Forde’s group was going directly after drug cartels. In 2008, Forde
claimed that Hispanic intruders raped her in her home— the police
dropped the investigation for insufficient evidence— and she suggested
the attack could have been retaliation for her undercover
investigations of drug-dealers in Washington, according to the ADL.
The ADL also noted that some of Forde’s ardent
supporters have ties to white-supremacist groups, including Laine
Lawless, who recently created the website justiceforshawnaforde.com.
Laine has been tied to white-supremacist organizations like the
National Socialist Movement and National Vanguard.
911 tape: Victim says a woman
By Scott North and Jackson Holtz - Heraldnet.com
June 17, 2009
The harsh crack of gunfire rings
out on the 911 tape.
An injured woman can be heard,
begging for help and weeping for her slain husband and daughter.
"Oh my God," she said at one
point. "I can't believe they killed my family."
Officials in Pima County, Ariz.,
on Tuesday released a tape of the 911 call made during a May 30
The violence has led to
first-degree murder charges for anti-immigration activist Shawna
The tape is the first piece of
evidence investigators have released in their case against Forde, 41,
On the tape, which was obtained
by The Green Valley News & Sun, the shooting victim describes her
attackers as having been dressed in camouflage clothing.
The armed intruders forced their
way into her home by claiming to be law enforcement officers looking
for a fugitive.
One was a tall man with his faced
painted black, the victim said. She described another as tall and
In their company was "a shorter,
fat woman" who was white, the victim told a 911 dispatcher.
The intruders shot the victim's
husband, Raul Flores, 29, and their 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia.
The woman told police dispatchers
that she was shot, too, but managed to get into another room where she
got a handgun.
She drove the attackers away, and
they dropped one of their weapons, perhaps a shotgun, she said.
But the attackers came back, as
the woman was on the phone with the emergency dispatcher.
Shouts and gunfire were captured
on the tape. Then the intruders left.
While she waited for police, the
woman told dispatchers that the tall man with the painted face shot
her husband. Her daughter also was shot multiple times.
The woman said she heard the
child crying before the fatal bullets were fired.
The victim asked the dispatcher
if she could be in trouble for shooting at the intruders.
No, the dispatcher reassured her.
She'd clearly acted in self defense.
"I'm really scared they're going
to come back," the caller said.
Arizona officials allege the home
invasion and killings were planned by Forde as part of a scheme to get
drugs and money to fund her border-watch group, Minutemen American
Also charged in the case are
Jason Eugene Bush, 34, and Albert Robert Gaxiola, 42. Bush is an
ex-convict who has claimed to be a special forces warrior.
Police in Wenatchee on Monday
said Bush has "long-standing" links to white supremacist groups. Last
week, he was quietly charged with second-degree murder in the 1997
stabbing and beating death of a Hispanic man from Wenatchee. Bush
allegedly has been linked by genetic evidence.
Minutemen groups on Tuesday
continued to distance themselves from Forde and those who were in her
In addition to the killings in
Arizona, police are investigating whether members of the group also
committed a home invasion in Northern California.
Everett police continue to
investigate the Dec. 22 shooting of Forde's ex-husband at the home
they'd earlier shared, and her Jan. 15 shooting in a north Everett
alley, Everett police Sgt. Robert Goetz said.
Detectives in Everett have been
working with Arizona officials since before Forde's arrest.
"We are taking the information
that Arizona has to see if any of it is helpful to any of our cases,"
So far, he said, no firm suspects
have emerged in the Everett cases involving Forde.
Activist Shawna Forde charged
in double slaying
Woman with troubled past in
Everett now accused in Arizona
By Scott North and Jackson Holtz
June 13, 2009
An outspoken anti-immigration
activist who was at the center of a series of violent crimes in
Everett earlier this year now stands accused of the home-invasion
killings of an Arizona man and his 9-year-old daughter.
Shawna Forde, 41, and two
associates in her Minuteman American Defense group are charged with
two counts of first-degree murder, one count of first-degree burglary
and one count of aggravated assault, according to the Pima County
Sheriff's Department in Arizona.
The May 30 killings were believed
to be premeditated and part of a plan to steal money and drugs to
finance the Minuteman group she leads. Forde's own family said that
the woman weeks ago had discussed using robberies to raise money for
Pima County Sheriff Clarence
Dupnik told the Green Valley News and Sun that Forde was trying right
up until her arrest Friday "to get together a large amount of money to
further sophisticate the type of operation she's interested in."
Forde denied the charges.
"No, I did not do it," the
newspaper quoted her saying as she was led out of the sheriff's office
in front of reporters Friday afternoon.
Raul Flores, 29, and his
daughter, Brisenia, 9, were killed when a group of armed people,
including a woman, forced their way into the home. The child's mother
traded gunfire with the attackers. She survived but remains
hospitalized with gunshot wounds.
Pima County officials said the
intruders had been looking for the couple's other daughter to shoot
her, too, but she wasn't home.
Forde was arrested without
incident in Sierra Vista, a few miles from the Mexican border.
Also charged in the case are
Jason Eugene Bush, 34, who was being treated for a gunshot wound he is
believed to have received during the attack. He has a history of auto
theft from Chelan County, in Eastern Washington. The third defendant
is Albert Robert Gaxiola, 42.
Pima County Sheriff's Department
spokeswoman deputy Dawn Barkman told The Herald that Forde "was the
ringleader of this group and of this attack. She made the order for
Bush to go in and shoot these individuals.
"She's just truly an evil person
to do something like this," Barkman said.
Detectives believe there are
additional suspects and are aggressively continuing their
investigation, Barkman said.
The shootings occurred in the
tiny hamlet of Arivaca, about 60 miles south of Tucson and 10 miles
north of the Mexican border, an area of heavy illegal traffic in drugs
It is in an area where Forde and
her group, Minuteman American Defense, regularly operate. The group
claims to conduct desert surveillance and undercover investigations
aimed at curbing illegal immigration and drug smuggling.
Forde has been active in the
Minuteman movement for years, although even before Friday's arrest,
many groups and leaders kept their distance.
Before she headed to Arizona
earlier this year to start another season of prowling the desert with
her group, she made it clear that she was preparing for violence.
"I will stay the course and lead
in this fight with every once (sic) of strength and conviction I
have," she wrote in an e-mail message to supporters. "I will not waist
(sic) it on matters that do not pertain to this very mission. It is
time for Americans to lock and load."
Forde has a long and troubled
history in Snohomish County, including juvenile convictions for
felonies, prostitution and other street crime. Some of her past was
recounted by The Herald in a profile that appeared Feb. 22.
Forde was at the center of a
flurry of violence that began Dec. 22 when her ex-husband was shot in
his Everett home. A week later, she reported being beaten and raped by
strangers at the same house.
On Jan. 15, Forde was found in a
north Everett alley with apparent gunshot wounds.
She claimed the violence was all
retaliation for her activities targeting criminal groups operating on
both sides of the border between Mexico and the U.S.
The cases here remain under
investigation by Everett police.
Forde's ex-husband was seriously
wounded during the Dec. 22 shooting. Reached Friday, he was distraught
hearing that a child died. He declined to comment on his former wife.
Forde's mother, who lives in
California, said she was not surprised to hear of her daughter's
Rena Caudle said Forde visited
her before heading to the border this year. She talked of staging home
invasions, Caudle said.
"She sat here and said that she
was going to start a group where they went down and start taking
things away from the Mexican mafia," Caudle said. "She was going to
kick in their doors and take away the money and the drugs."
Caudle said she wasn't sure what
to make of that at the time, in part because Forde has a history of
exaggeration and lying.
Then, early on May 30 -- a few
hours after the shootings -- Caudle said, Forde called her and
reported she was taking refuge in a "safe house" in Arivaca.
Forde "was very frightened,"
Caudle said. "She says, 'I'm in hiding.' I said, 'What is going on?'
She said. 'You won't believe what is going down here … The mafia, they
are kicking down doors and they are shooting people and they are
looking for me.'"
Pima County sheriff's Lt. Michael
O'Connor told reporters in Arizona that Raul Flores had connections to
Mexican drug cartels and his involvement was known to the Drug
People in the Minuteman movement
reacted to news of the arrests with sadness -- and some contempt for
Jim Gilchrist, president of the
California-based Minuteman Project and a longtime Forde ally, said his
group is separate and "we disassociate any affiliation between her,
her organization and ours." On Friday he posted a message of
condolence to the victims' families.
Jeff Schwilk, founder of the San
Diego Minutemen and an outspoken critic of Gilchrist, said he and
others long ago recognized that Forde was unstable and dangerous. He
said Gilchrist should have done the same.
"The warning had been out in Arizona to stay away from this woman," he
said. "Unfortunately, this conclusion was very tragic."