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Arizona rancher charged in killing of Mexican migrant found near his home

By Sarah May
|
February 7, 2023

A rancher in Arizona is facing a first-degree murder charge and remains held on $1 million bail over the deadly shooting of a Mexican national found on his property, as the Daily Mail reports.

According to the outlet, 73-year-old George Alan Kelley was taken into custody in the aftermath of the Jan. 30 incident in which 48-year-old Gabriel Cuen-Butimea was killed on Kelley's Kino Springs ranch near the Nogales border between the U.S. and Mexico.

Investigation continues

The events that unfolded on Kelly's ranch remain under investigation, but according to Nogales International, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's dispatch indicated that a call came in Monday afternoon from agents of the U.S. Border Patrol referencing a “possible active shooter” in the area.

That information was relayed in response to a call received by the Border Patrol from someone claiming to be on the scene and who described spotting a “group of people running.”

The individual who placed to call was identified in a Border Patrol log entry as “Allen,” and he was reported to have said that he was “unsure if he was getting shot at as well.”

Later that day, just before 6:00 p.m., sheriff's dispatch received another call regarding shots having been fired at the same property, and shortly thereafter, deputies found the body ultimately identified as Cuen-Butimea situated between 100 and 150 yards away from Kelly's home.

Bond set

Though officials continue to probe the events surrounding Cuen-Butimea's death, Kelly was arrested and made an initial appearance in court last weerk, and his bond was set by Justice of the Peace Emilio Velasquez at $1 million.

The high bond was of immediate concern to Kelly, who requested that it be reduced due to the fact that his wife is now alone on the expansive ranch property, saying, “She's there by herself...nobody to take care of her, the livestock or the ranch.”

Velasquez did not immediately grant Kelly's request but indicated that if a charge is ultimately filed in the case, he would be able to seek a lower bond at that time.

The accused rancher has remained at the Santa Cruz County Jail since his arraignment last week, and is slated to make another court appearance on Wednesday, according to the Washington Times.

Neighbors weigh in

Though the local sheriff's office did not immediately provide information about Cuen-Butimea's immigration status, the Daily Mail noted that the man had a documented history of illegal crossings as well as deportations in the local area.

According to Tucson CBS affiliate station KOLD, those living near Kelly in Kino Springs were reportedly shocked by the events of Jan. 30.

Local resident Maria Castillo explained, “I drive through here every day. Late, early and never encountered anybody. I feel very safe living here in the area,” though she added that she often sees border-crossers traveling around the neighborhood.

Another neighbor – and self-described friend of Kelly – said that this was not the first time the accused shooter has had trouble with people entering onto his property, and he expressed his belief that there was no bad faith involved in whatever transpired on Jan. 30.

Questions remain

Though the precise facts underlying the incident involving Kelly and Cuen-Butimea have yet to be fully revealed, the scenario calls to mind the difficult balancing act ranchers near the border face on a daily basis in dealing with an ongoing stream of trespassers and the controversial legal defenses that may ultimately be raised in the case.

As the Mail notes, according to Arizona law, an individual may be deemed justified in using physical force against another person if a similarly situated reasonable person would have believed such force to be “immediately necessary” to protect himself against the use or attempted use of unlawful physical force.

It should be noted, though, that Arizona's Stand Your Ground law does not provide a defense in cases where only a verbal provocation occurred or if the person claiming the law's protection was the one who instigated the confrontation.

Given the lack of publicly released information on the events underlying the shooting on Kelly's ranch, however, it still remains to be seen whether any viable arguments in this realm are likely to be made.