[Albert Gaxiola, left, in the courtroom, with his attorney, Steve West]
The case of Shawna Forde and her killer Minutemen -- who in 2009 broke into a home in rural Arizona and killed a 9-year-old girl and her father -- is really, as you'd imagine, a story featuring a cast of depraved characters, led of course by Forde, who was convicted in February and now sits on Arizona's death row. Likewise, the gunman in the case, Jason Bush -- a onetime Aryan Nations member and general nutcase -- is now awaiting execution.
But if the case prosecutors presented holds up -- and the evidence, frankly, is powerfully damning -- there was a special level of depravity reached by Albert Gaxiola, the third defendant in the case, whose trial I have been covering this week under the auspices of the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute. That's because Gaxiola had been a longtime friend of the Flores family and was adored by their two little girls, Brisenia and Alexandra -- and yet he evidently not only set them up for murder, he accompanied the gang of killers inside as they ransacked the home and Brisenia lay dying on a couch.
I knew some of this from having talked with people in Arivaca in February. But it all came out in court this week, when the mother and only survivor of the home invasion, Gina Gonzalez, testified to that effect.
Dave Ricker, the Green Valley News reporter who really has owned this story since it happened, has the details:
After hearing a recording of a 9-1-1 emergency center call made by the surviving victim in the fatal home invasion the jury heard Gonzalez relive for the third time from the witness stand the night she was wounded and her husband and daughter were shot to death before her eyes.
After she had been shot, Gonzalez decided to play dead in hopes of surviving. “I laid on the floor very scared,” she said. “I heard Junior taking his last breaths.”
Eventually, the tall male, Jason Bush, who was doing the shooting of the victims, addressed Brisenia, who by now had awakened. Bush asked her about the location of her older sister. “He was telling her that nothing was going to happen to her and that everything was going to be okay,” Gonzalez related. “She was crying a lot. She was scared.”
Brisenia told the Bush that her sister was staying with her grandmother’s house. Brisenia was asked if the body on the floor in front of the love seat was her sister. “At first she said yes. Then she tips over and looks and says ‘that’s my mom; why did you shoot my mom?’” Gonzalez said.
At that point, Bush paused to reload his weapon as Brisenia watched. “I could hear him put the bullets in the gun,” Gonzalez said. “She was begging him not to shoot her.”
What followed were two more blasts from his gun in the direction of her daughter. “He shot her. I saw her fly back. He shot her twice,” Gonzalez said.
By that time the female intruder told her compatriots that they had to leave, but they paused first to search the Flores home for money and drugs. After they left, Gonzalez did what any mother would do. “I sat up and grabbed Brisenia. I was telling her not to die on me,” she testified. “She was shaking really hard.”
Gonzalez was able to get to a portable phone on an ottoman close by, thus she call 9-1-1. “I asked them what I should do,” she recalled.
At that point, Gonzalez notice that the female leader of the home invasion crew, Shawna Forde, re-entered the home with a big smile on her face. “I’m panicking; I’m freaking out; a million things are going through my head,” she said.
Gonzalez decided to try to get to her husband’s gun in the kitchen, as she made her way to the kitchen her leg snapped. Eventually, she retrieved the gun and used it to exchange gunshots with the tall male shooter, who had reentered her home, wounding him in the leg.
As you can imagine, this was truly gut-wrenching testimony in a week full of such moments. One of the more damning pieces of evidence was the fact that Gaxiola's DNA turned up all over an AK-47 the perpetrators idiotically left behind at the scene, sitting on top of the kitchen stove. Defense attorneys, as you can imagine, tried their damnedest to cast doubt on that particular piece of evidence, and spent the better part of Friday afternoon in that attempt. Whether they succeeded or not remains to be seen, but it was a highly technical bit of arguing and did not sound terribly convincing -- especially considering that the kitchen is where, as it happens, Gina Gonzalez happened to earlier testify she thought she had heard a voice like Albert's speaking while the house was being ransacked.
We also had a brief flurry of concern yesterday involving one of the potential witnesses in the case, Laine Lawless -- an extremist nutcase who was involved in the post-murder logistics between Forde and Gaxiola. Lawless had previously tried to enter the courtroom in disguise, even though she had been barred. One of yesterday's witnesses bore an unfortunate resemblance to Lawless and some of the deputies were concerned that she was about to try the same stunt -- but it was, of course, a false alarm.
Unfortunately, I have to return home this week and will be relying on my colleagues, including the superb Kim Smith of the Arizona Daily Star (who also has a good wrapup of this week's trial), to keep you updated.
Coming up: We'll hear from the dubious Oin Oakstar again, and we'll probably learn more about that Border Patrol uniform they found in Gaxiola's home. (Gonzalez testified that the "Mexican" man she saw poke his head in the door briefly -- the one she thought looked like Gaxiola -- was wearing a Border Patrol uniform.)