Gaxiola escapes the death sentence in Flores family murders -- for now
Well, Albert Gaxiola may have been convicted of first-degree murder in the killings of Brisenia Flores and her father, Raul at the hands of Minuteman leader Shawna Forde, but unlike Forde and the gunman in the case, Jason Bush, it appears that Gaxiola will not be sent to death row -- at least for now (via Kim Smith at the Arizona Daily Star):
Albert Gaxiola will not be joining Shawna Forde and Jason Bush on death row for his involvement in the May 2009 death of Raul Junior Flores, but the jury could not reach a unanimous decision as to the death of 9-year-old Brisensia Flores.
The Pima County Attorney’s Office must now decide whether they want to empanel a new jury to comtemplate a possible death sentence for Brisenia’s death or let Pima County Superior Court Judge John Leonardo sentence Gaxiola to life with or without the possibility of release.
The jury deliberated around 11 hours before sentencing Gaxiola to life in prison for Junior Flores’ death, but were at a stalemate as to the sentence pertaining to Brisenia.
Gaxiola is also facing additional time for the attempted first-degree murder of Flores’ wife, Gina Gonzalez, and a variety of other charges.
He will be sentenced on those charges Aug. 15.
As Dave Ricker reports, Gaxiola was obviously pleased:
The jury of seven males and five females took a little over 11 hours before returning their verdicts to a surprised audience of onlookers in the courtroom of Judge John S. Leonardo. “I’m relieved,” said defense counsel Steven D. West, immediately following the reading of the verdict.
West said Gaxiola had similar feelings. “I think he was greatly relieved,” West said.
But that doesn't mean he's entirely off the hook. Prosecutors, as Ricker explains, now will consider whether to drop the effort to obtain a death sentence in Brisenia's case or to empanel a new jury:
A hearing on whether the death request will be withdrawn on the count involving the murder of Brisenia is set for July 29 at 10 a.m. If the death request is withdrawn then Leonardo will have the option of sentencing Gaxiola to natural life or whether he will have an opportunity to apply for a parole hearing after he has served 35 calendar years in prison. The 35-year threshold applies in Brisenia’s case because she was younger than 15-years-old.
A sentencing hearing has been set for Aug. 15 at 10:30 a.m. on the other six counts for which Gaxiola was convicted, as well as the murder count for which he will receive life in prison. It is up to Leonardo to determine if Gaxiola will be sentenced to natural life or whether he will have an opportunity to apply for a parole hearing after he has served 25 calendar years in prison.
I'm pretty interested in hearing what the final vote was -- particularly given the powerful statement given by Gina Gonzalez, the surviving victim. Ricker obtained a copy of the statement she read to the jury, and it's quite powerful:
Gonzalez is a very soft-spoken person so not all of her words could be heard from the back of the courtroom, thus she graciously provided a copy of the statement she read to the jury. It is reproduced below.
I am so thankful and relieved you have taken the time to allow me to read my impact statement. As you can probably imagine, the murder of my husband and daughter on May 30, 2009, has changed my life forever.
I went to bed with my family as I normally would on any given night, not imagining I would never wake up from this never-ending nightmare.
The defendant and my family hung around together, we laughed, he played video games with my daughters, told them how beautiful they were, how well-behaved they were, how their hair always looked nice. The memory that sticks out most in my mind is when the defendant would throw Brisenia up in the air, catch her and make her laugh.
We were all friends. How could someone who loved my family plot their final destiny? How could someone who loved my family stand by and allow a child he made laugh be murdered?
Brisenia was a beautiful little girl. I can’t possibly understand what she could have done to deserve this. What could I have done to deserve this? What could my husband have done to deserve this? What did Alexandra, my oldest daughter, do to deserve the loss of her little sister, who was her best friend and her father, who she misses very much?
I am still in denial about the whole thing. I can’t believe someone I loved and trusted could have done something like this. For the longest time, I never thought the defendant would have been capable of doing something like this...almost wiping out my entire family.
It saddened me to know that Brisenia’s face had to be reconstructed for her funeral. It was very hard to see my child in the casket. It was also hard to see my husband in the casket. But it was more difficult to comprehend that I may know the person who did this to them. I continue to have a hard time re-directing my grieving for both my husband and daughter. It’s all so overwhelming!
Who put Junior’s name on the bullet and didn’t care what happened to my daughter and me?
The defendant knew my history with Junior. He knew we had been together since he was 15 years old. When my husband was murdered, we were two-and-a-half months short of being married 13 years. We had built our lives together and we were looking forward to growing old together. He had a great sense of humor, was a great cook and he loved his little girls very much.
It’s hard for me to understand how this all happened. I have so many questions that will remain unanswered. I just need to know “Why? Even though knowing why still wouldn’t be good enough. It still won’t bring them back.
My life is ruined. I now know that evil lives among us and it comes in many forms. It can even befriend you, gain your trust and kill your family.
Thank you for your time.