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Published on April 12, 2024
Arizona Judge Temporarily Exits Courtroom Amid Contentious Murder Trial of Rancher George Alan Kelly Near NogalesSource: Blogtrepreneur, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In an unusual twist during an Arizona murder trial, Judge Thomas Fink stepped out of the courtroom amid frustrations over the length of oral arguments from both defense and prosecution. The trial of rancher George Alan Kelly, accused of shooting a migrant on his property near Nogales, has gripped the state as tensions over border security issues continue to escalate.

Jurors were escorted earlier this week to Kelly's 170-acre ranch, the site where prosecutors allege the fatal shot was fired in 2023. In stark contrast, the defense argues that evidence including the lack of gun residue suggests the possibility that shots could have come from someone else, as reported by FOX 10 Phoenix.

Kelly has admitted to firing warning shots when he noticed the group of migrants, but stressed his uncertainty about whether his shots were lethal, given no bullets were recovered at the scene. His wife has testified in his defense, though he has not taken the stand in the trial himself. George Alan Kelly faces life in prison if convicted of the crime.

The case unfolds at a crucial juncture in American politics, directly after a failure to pass a bipartisan immigration reform bill. The bill's demise was partially due to opposition from Republicans, with presidential candidate Donald Trump slamming it as unfit for the party's goals, per FOX 10 Phoenix.

Further complicating the trial, Kelly's defense team has cast doubt on the forensic evidence and autopsy report provided by the state, questioning their ability to conclusively prove that Kelly's gun was responsible for the death of Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea. A defense consultant suggested that a "rip crew," known for their violent robberies in the area, could have been the real culprits, a narrative lacking rebuttal testimony from state witnesses, according to Fox News.

Media access to the jurors' visit to Kelly's private property was denied by Judge Fink, while Sgt. Omar Rodriguez, responding officer from Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office, provided testimonies that fueled additional speculation. The sergeant admitted that it wasn't clear whether Cuen-Buitimea had been killed instantly or had staggered from his mortal wound before collapsing, as cited by Fox News.

The high-profile case, which has seen Kelly held on a $1 million bond and reject a plea deal earlier this year, is expected to conclude on April 19.