Witnesses take stand as trial of Az border rancher accused of murdering migrant unfolds

Angela Gervasi
8 Min Read

The jury trial of George Alan Kelly, a
75-year-old Kino Springs man accused of second-degree murder, continues
to unfold at Santa Cruz County Superior Court.

Kelly was arrested on Jan. 30, 2023 after leading authorities to a body on his ranch, which sits about a mile-and-a-half north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

prosecutors allege that Kelly opened fire on a group of undocumented
migrants, killing 48-year-old Mexican citizen Gabriel Cuen Buitimea.
Kelly has maintained his innocence through his defense attorneys, who
say their client fired defensive warning shots into the air after he was
threatened by a group of armed men on his property. Kelly’s attorneys
also argue that the warning shots did not kill Cuen Buitimea, who was
found more than 100 yards away from his residence.

Kelly’s trial began last Friday and resumed the following Tuesday, continuing into Wednesday and Thursday as jurors heard testimony from several witnesses.

Here are some key events of the trial so far:

Border Patrol ranch liaison testifies

Tuesday, jurors heard testimony from Jeremy Morsell, a Border Patrol
ranch liaison who said he’d spoken with Kelly on the day of the alleged
murder. Answering questions from prosecutors, Morsell described a string
of phone calls with Kelly on Jan. 30, 2023.

Around 2:30 p.m. that day, Morsell said, Kelly called and reported that five men were running on his Kino Springs property.

“He seemed very rushed. … He said, ‘Jeremy, I’m being shot at, I’m shooting back,’” Morsell testified on Tuesday.

said he made a call to law enforcement, requesting that agents respond
to the incident on Kelly’s property. In another call with Kelly several
minutes later, Morsell said the defendant’s narrative had changed.

“This time he said he had heard a gunshot,” Morsell added.

“Did he ever say he saw anyone point a gun at him?” asked Deputy County Prosecutor Kimberly Hunley.

“No, ma’am,” Morsell replied.

Later, on the evening of Jan. 30, 2023, Kelly called again, Morsell said. This time, Morsell added, Kelly sounded “scared.”

“Finally, (Kelly) stated that something was possibly struck earlier,” Morsell testified.

Kelly had also asked Morsell if the incident was being reported, Morsell testified.

cross-examination, Kelly’s defense attorney Kathy Lowthorp asked
Morsell a number of questions about illegal activity in the Kino Springs
area. Days before Jan. 30, 2023, Morsell had warned Kelly about drug
trafficking, Lowthorp said, referring to text messages from Jan. 27.

Lowthorp also pointed out that
during the initial phone calls, Kelly had appeared “rushed,” and, she
asserted, might not have time to mention whether someone was pointing a
gun at him.

“Now if someone’s pointing a gun at you, you might want to be rushed in defending yourself, right?” Lowthorp asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” Morsell replied.

Lowthorp also pointed out that Kelly had called law enforcement and requested help.

“He wanted help, right? He left messages, ‘Call me immediately,’ correct?” Lowthorp asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” Morsell said.

knows what (Kelly) meant by (asking) if this was being reported,”
Lowthorp said at one point, still questioning Morsell. “We don’t know
what he meant, do you?”

Witness describes crossing with Cuen Buitimea

hours Wednesday, jurors heard testimony from another witness: Daniel
Ramirez, a man who testified that he’d crossed the border with Cuen
Buitimea on Jan. 30, 2023. Ramirez, a Honduran migrant who works in
Sonora, told jurors he’d decided to cross the border in search of

also testified that he’d crossed the border a handful of times
previously, paying $2,500 cash to smugglers each time. In each attempt,
Ramirez said, he’d been unsuccessful.

Jan. 30, 2023, Ramirez said he and Cuen Buitimea, along with several
other migrants and a smuggler, climbed over a low section of border
fence and began walking north. From there, Ramirez said, the group
scattered after seeing Border Patrol in the area. Ramirez told jurors he
ran south with Cuen Buitimea.

Ramirez told jurors, gunfire began heading in their direction. Cuen
Buitimea was hit, Ramirez said. Ramirez testified that he saw a red
horse and a house with pine trees in the area.

Ramirez said, he ran and later looked back to see a man – “a person
that was firing at us,” he added, speaking through a court interpreter.

said the man had a gray shirt and said he saw white on the man’s head,
though he did not provide further identifying details during Wednesday’s

Cross-examination for Ramirez lasted hours.

lead defense attorney, Brenna Larkin, questioned Ramirez on a number of
details, asking him at one point why he hadn’t tried to enter the
country legally. Larkin also asked Ramirez about several alleged
discrepancies between his current testimony and the statements he’d
given to law enforcement in previous interviews. For instance, Larkin
said, Ramirez had previously told law enforcement agents he and Cuen
Buitimea had crossed the border west of Nogales; Kino Springs is located
east of the city.

On Wednesday, Ramirez testified that he’d crossed east.

also testified at a hearing in this case where you also stated that
this took place west of Nogales. Do you recall that?” Larkin asked.

don’t remember,” Ramirez replied through an interpreter, later adding
that he could have previously described the location as west, rather
than east.

The ongoing trial is scheduled through April 19.

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Angela Gervasi , www.tucsonsentinel.com
border Vivrr Local | TucsonSentinel.com , 2024-04-02 21:11:47
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