On Monday, a Pima County, Ariz., jury convicted Shawna Forde on two counts of first-degree murder for the May 2009 killings of Raul Junior Flores and his nine-year-old daughter Brisenia. Forde was also found guilty of attempted first-degree murder for the shooting of Flores’ wife, Gina Gonzalez, along with several other charges, all stemming from a grisly home invasion that prosecutors said Forde masterminded to fund her border vigilante group. On Tuesday, the jury decided Forde is eligible for the death penalty.
After the verdict on Monday, Forde gave a jail house interview to The Daily Beast’s Terry Greene Sterling, in which she maintained her innocence:
Forde told me she’d “lost a daughter” and she knows from experience Gonzalez will feel pain “the rest of her life” and her “tragedy is extremely sad.” “I wish I could say I was sorry it happened,” Forde said. “I am not sorry on my behalf because I didn’t do it.”
Forde described her group, the Minuteman American Defense, “as a vital militarized outfit with a ‘coastal alliance’ and an ‘air alliance’ and about 13,000 members who aren’t ‘listed anywhere’ because their work would be compromised and security would be breached.” She told Sterling the group “runs recon missions,” despite the fact that Minutemen at the trial testified that only a few people showed up to a 2007 event Forde organized to round up illegal immigrants near Sasabe, Ariz. Forde also said she instructed her adult children not to attend the trial, and that the rest of her family and her “large support system” had stayed away because of the media.
Forde, a 43-year old former beautician, is the leader of the Minuteman American Defense group, a splinter group of the larger, border-security-obsessed Minuteman movement. According to The Arizona Daily Star, prosecutors argued that Forde recruited Jason Bush, Albert Gaxiola and others to rob Flores, who Forde suspected of being a drug smuggler.
Gonzalez, Flores’ wife, testified on the first day of the trial, and the Star reports that she told jurors her husband woke her the night of the incident to say that the police were at the door. A woman at the door identified herself and the man she was with as law enforcement.
When her husband questioned the veracity of their story, Gonzalez said the gunman opened fire, shooting her husband and Gonzalez. As Gonzalez played dead on the floor, the gunman fired two bullets into their youngest daughter’s head, despite the little girl’s pleas. Their oldest daughter was spending the night at her grandmother’s house.
According to prosecutors, Brisenia Flores’ last words were: “Why did you shoot my mom?
After shooting the family, the suspects left the home momentarily, and Gonzalez called 911. When the woman returned, she called for the gunman to kill Gonzalez. Gonzalez escaped to the kitchen, armed herself and fired at her assailant, who fled.
In June 2009, the Associated Press reported how members of the broader Minuteman movement had distanced themselves from Forde after the murders.
“We knew that Shawna Forde was not just an unsavory character but pretty unbalanced as well,” Chris Simcox, founder of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, told the AP, adding that his group kicked Forde out in 2007.
Jason Bush, the alleged gunman, is scheduled to go to trial in March, while Gaxiola’s trial will start in June.
In the Forde trial defense attorneys will now present evidence for why her life should be spared.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com