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Jury begins deliberating case accusing Arizona rancher of fatal migrant shooting

A case against an Arizona rancher accused of fatally shooting a Mexican migrant last year near Nogales has gone to the jury for deliberation. Seventy-five-year-old George Alan Kelly is accused of shooting and killing 48-year-old Gabriel Cuen Buitimea, as Butimea and other migrants crossed through his 170-acre property on Jan. 30, 2023.

In closing arguments, prosecutor Mike Jette said Buitimea and Daniel Ramirez, another migrant from Honduras, were unarmed and running toward Mexico when Kelly fired on them from his porch with an AK-47.

"And without verbal warning, without a shout and without any indication to both Gabriel and Daniel, points that weapon at these two men and shoots over and over and over again, nine times," he said. 

Kelly has said he shot warning shots into the air but not directly at anyone. Records submitted to the court show he spoke with Border Patrol and the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department multiple times that day — including once to report he'd heard gunshots and had fired back. 

Defense attorney Brenna Larkin argued sheriff’s deputies had failed to properly search Kelly’s property during that shots fired call. 

"We do not know if Gabriel Cuel Butimea’s body was there when law enforcement arrived. It’s a question that’s outstanding, and now we never will." she said. 

Larkin told jurors the prosecution hadn't proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Kelly’s gun was the one that killed Butimea. The case is now with an eight-person jury. 

Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.