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Ending the trial phase of a sad and sordid tale that has haunted Arizona for two years, a Pima County jury Friday convicted a Latino man of first-degree murder for the slayings of Raul Flores and his 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia, in a home invasion committed by members of a border vigilante group.
Albert Gaxiola was the last of three defendants to be tried and convicted for the May 30, 2009, slayings. Preceding him were Shawna Forde, founder of Minuteman American Defense (MAD), and MAD member Jason “Gunny” Bush, both of whom have been sentenced to death.
Forde, Bush and Gaxiola went into the Flores home in Arivaca, about 50 miles southwest of Tucson, believing that because Flores was a drug dealer, he would have plenty of cash on hand. Prosecutors charged that Bush was the gunman who shot Flores dead before shooting his wife, Gina Gonzalez, in the leg. He then walked over to Brisenia, who was sleeping with her puppy on the couch, and shot her twice in the head at close range.
Testimony at Gaxiola’s trial suggested a two-pronged motive for the home invasion: Forde sought to steal money to fund her increasingly militant operation against immigrants on the border; Gaxiola was in it to take out Flores, who allegedly belonged to a rival drug gang. “If Gaxiola had not told Forde and Bush where to go, the crime would not have happened,” Deputy Prosecutor Kellie Johnson told the jury. Bush, a violent man charged with two other murders, was not said to have had a motive distinct from Forde’s.
Over the course of Gaxiola’s 11-day trial, it emerged that he and Flores had once been friends. According to Flores’ widow, the two often met socially in 2007 and 2008, before eventually having a falling-out. Gaxiola’s cousin is Gonzalez’s godmother.
Like Forde and Bush, Gaxiola was also found guilty of attempting to murder Gonzalez, as well as burglary, armed robbery, aggravated robbery and aggravated assault.
The jury’s next and final task will be to determine if Gaxiola should join Forde and Bush on death row.