The Critical First Day of the Shawna Forde Murder Trial
by Juan Reyes Navarro and Paul Rodriguez
The mainstream media continues to ignore the Shawna Forde murder trial even though she is an unrepentant advocate of stopping illegal entry at the border and of restricting immigration. In contrast, when she was arrested, there was a huge media storm of stories that attempted to associate her with imagined immigrant-hating militias that use violence to solve border problems. The fact that Shawna Forde helped to found Minutemen American Defense (MAD) furthered the flames of the open border lynch mobs. Immigration has not been at issue in the trial, which may explain the indifference of the media.
The Shawna Forde case has taken a few strange turns. Earlier Forde’s lawyer, Eric Larsen, asked for a change of venue because the inflammatory immigration debate in the Tucson area would make a fair trial impossible. That request was denied.
About a week before the trial date, mass murderer Loughner shook Tucson when he shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and wounded and killed many others. Attorney Larsen again requested a change of venue for the Forde trial and was again denied. Inexplicably, Larsen did not take advantage of this opportunity to appeal the ruling to the appeals court, but instead proceeded with the trial.
Larsen also requested that the trial be postponed until March because he said that he felt his performance would be degraded by the emotional grief he felt over the death of his colleague, District Judge John Roll, one of Loughner’s mass murder victims. The request to delay the trial was denied, and no appeal to a higher court was made.
Paradoxically Loughner was granted a change of venue less than two weeks after his heinous crime, and legal pundits began talking about how he could get a fair trial, suggesting he might have a double jury of up to 24 people. So, Loughner, who is definitely guilty of mass murder, is given better treatment by the courts than a woman who hasn’t been convicted and whose guilt is still very much in doubt.
It was recently announced that the trial would end after three weeks, so Thursday, February 10, the attorneys will make final arguments. The prosecution was allowed seven days to question witnesses while the defense will take just one day. Shawna Forde will not testify in her own defense.
Background: On May 30, 2009, Raul "Junior" Flores, 29, and his daughter, Brisenia, 10, were killed in their mobile home in Arivaca, AZ. Shawna Forde, Jason Bush, and Albert Gaxiola are charged with their murders. Arivaca, a dirt road town, is about ten miles, straight line distance, from the Mexican border.
Gina Marie Gonzalez, 31, Junior's wife, was in the home and injured with gunshot wounds during the attack. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said the attackers hoped to get money and drugs from the Flores-Gonzalez household. A wounded Gina Gonzalez called 911 when the assailants left the home for a few moments. While she was on the phone, the assailants reentered the home and Gonzalez fired one of her husband’s handguns. Some write that Gonzalez wounded one of the assailants but she said, in the recorded 911 call, that she did not think she hit anyone.
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik alleged Forde planned and ordered the murders of Flores and her family.
Several minutes before the trial, Gonzalez was seated between two volunteer supporters for crime victims. One was a black woman and the other was a Latina. On several occasions they all burst into uproarious laughter. Later the volunteers comforted a tearful Gina as she and the courtroom listened to the recording of the nineteen-minute 911 call she made.
Shawna Forde, in contrast, had nobody but her legal team to offer her psychological support.
During the 911 call Gonzalez was asked if she knew someone who might be angry with her. Gonzalez said that it might be the woman she had a fight with about a week before, who was identified as Dominique Maken on a surveillance video camera. The prosecutors tried to eliminate Maken as a suspect.
At one point during the 911 call Gonzalez said she didn’t see any of the invaders. Later she said that she saw a super tall white male plus a shorter fat white woman and a Mexican man. She said that the white male had black face paint. She said they were all in camouflage clothing but she could not tell the color of the camouflage. Her description doesn’t seem to match photos of Forde right before the murder as she was of average height and not fat.
Gonzalez during the 911 call said, “I don’t know how many were in the house.” Later she said maybe four or five people were in the house, four males and a female; but she only saw three people. At one point she said she only saw the woman, but she did not notice her hair or if she was wearing a hat. The dispatcher gently asked her to “stop cussing.”
Gonzalez told the operator she thought people were entering her house and, she said, “putting something in my house.” The Defense referred to that comment in the recording and asked what she thought they might be putting in her house and she said: “maybe drugs to set us up.”
The Defense asked her what she meant in the 911 call when she said her husband had a gun near the door “just in case.” Gonzalez said that her husband would use the gun in case coyotes threatened their peacocks. Peacocks are sometimes used as guard dogs. In spite of this, reports from the crime scene indicate the Flores family had at least 2 dogs, one of which was a pit bull.
At trial Gina said she thought two white guys came to kill her family, while the two Mexicans came only to rob them!
Robbing the house of cash was claimed to be the motive of the invaders. However, the Defense showed five pictures, taken shortly after the invasion, of five different locations in the house with visible United States currency, untouched, not taken. There was a stash of cash under the mattress but Gonzalez downplayed how much money was hidden there.
The prosecution asked Gonzalez to point out the female invader. She pointed immediately to Shawna Forde. Of course, everyone in the courtroom knew exactly where Shawna Forde sat and anyone there could have similarly pointed her out. The Prosecution asked what characteristics of Shawna Forde matched the invader and Gonzalez replied “everything.” That all-inclusive statement seemed to completely contradict Gonzalez’s earlier testimony that she didn’t remember much besides the woman’s height and weight. Gonzalez earlier testified at least twice that the woman was “mean.” At this time Gonzalez said that what she remembered about the woman was her smile, just like Shawna Forde’s.
Gina Gonzalez identified Shawn Forde as the fat, stocky, and overweight with brownish/graying hair as the woman at the murder scene. The description did not match the Shawna Forde sitting in the courtroom, and in fact, was so vague it could have matched millions of American women. The Shawna Forde of May 30 was not nearly as good a match with the current Gonzalez description because, at the time of the murders although she may have been a bit overweight (not fat), she had stunning long blonde hair.
The defense revealed that Gina Gonzalez’ brother was in prison because of a drug trafficking conviction. Gonzalez smiled, almost grinned, and claimed she did not know why her brother was in prison.
She was asked if she knew that the town Arivaca where she lived was on a drug smuggling route. She said she did not know that. She said she had heard rumors that it was involved in drug trafficking, but she had “never seen any evidence of it.”
Then she was asked if she knew that Albert Gaxiola (one of the accused murderers) had long been growing a marijuana garden on her property. She said yes, she did know about the marijuana and it was clear that she knew Albert Gaxiola quite well as she identified him as one of the invaders based upon the sound of his voice. She claimed that she and her husband asked Albert to stop growing the marijuana but he ignored their requests. She said, “If someone won’t stop, what can you do?” The Defense asked if they called the police and she said “no.”
Shortly after the noon trial recess, it was revealed that Gina Gonzalez, for the very first time, told the prosecutors (”my attorneys” as she called them), that she thought the female invader was wearing a wig the first time she came into the home but not the second time. Gonzalez had no reasonable explanation for why she had not revealed this during the preceding 19 months or why the female invader took the wig off during that short time before re-entering the home.
Gonzales explained that she didn’t tell the prosecutors about the wig because she thought they (the prosecutors) could not testify as witnesses, strange as that may sound. Why did she tell the prosecutors anything at all in the preceding almost-twenty months, if they couldn’t testify?
Gonzalez was asked if she had told anyone besides her attorneys about the wig. She responded that she had told lots of people.
She was asked to name one. She said her family. Then, as an afterthought, she added she must have told Detective Juan Carlos Navarro. Navarro, seated with the prosecutors, gave no indication of any earlier revelation about the wig.
Ms. Gonzalez’ testimony regularly went beyond what is needed to embellish answers with information that implies she, her house, and family were not involved in drug trafficking. Ample evidence presented suggests otherwise.
Gina Gonzalez was truly bothered and brought to tears while listening to the 911 recording of her call to police. However, with that exception, Gonzalez was all smiles as she reveled in her moments on the witness stand. She seemed to find her testimony and rebuttals to the Defense’s questions to be brilliant and convincing.
Gonzalez got much more than her “15 minutes of fame.” On the first day she was on the stand for almost five hours, yet she enjoyed every minute of it. She was relaxed and eager for more. At 4:56 pm, when the Judge called a recess for the day, Gonzalez strutted with bravado from the witness stand to the spectator seats. One wonders if Gonzalez will suffer depression when she is no longer the center of attention. “Dancing with the stars” may be a good second act for her. She has the smile, attractiveness, the engaging personality, and athleticism to win.
Juan Navarro is a lawyer who co-authored this article with Paul Rodriguez, a journalist who covers immigration issues.