Ex-Member Of Minuteman Group Accused Of Murder

A woman who was once an outspoken member of the Minuteman movement is now on trial for her life. Shawna Forde is accused of murdering a 9-year-old girl and her father in a botched home invasion near the border in Arizona. Her supporters say she's being framed to discredit the border vigilante movement.

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A once-outspoken member of the Minuteman movement is now on trial for her life. Forty-three-year-old Shawna Forde is accused of murdering a 9-year-old girl and her father in a botched home invasion near the border in Arizona. Her supporters say she is being framed to discredit the border vigilante movement.

NPR's Ted Robbins has the story.

TOM BOWMAN: Around 1 a.m. on May 30, 2009, intruders in camouflage outfits broke into the Flores home in the small Arizona town of Arivaca, southwest of Tucson. They shot 29-year-old Raul "Junior" Flores in the head, killing him. Then, they did the same to his 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia. They tried to kill Gina Gonzales, Brisenia's mother and Junior's wife. But wounded, she managed to call 911.

(Soundbite of 911 call)

Unidentified Woman: 911. What is your emergency?

Ms. GINA GONZALES: Yeah. Somebody just came in and shot my daughter and my husband.

Unidentified Woman: They shot them?

ROBBINS: The killers left to look for another daughter who, as it turned out, was away at a sleepover. Then, they returned.

(Soundbite of gunshots)

ROBBINS: Gonzales fired back with a gun her husband kept for self-defense.

Ms. GONZALES: (Bleep) out of here. Get (bleep) out of here.

ROBBINS: The intruders left again. While she waited for Pima County sheriff's deputies to arrive, Gonzales described them.

(Soundbite of 911 call)

Ms. GONZALES: There was a male, and there was a shorter, fat woman.

Unidentified Woman: OK. Now, the woman, what did she look like? Was she Hispanic? No?

Ms. GONZALES: No. She was a white, short woman.

Unidentified Woman: She was white? And the male, was he also white?

Ms. GONZALES: Yes.

Unidentified Woman: OK.

Ms. GONZALES: And then a Mexican came in.

ROBBINS: Twelve days later, police arrested Jason Bush at a hospital in Kingman, Arizona, where he was being treated for a gunshot wound. The following day, they arrested Arivaca resident Albert Gaxiola and Shawna Forde.

Forde was executive director of a group called Minutemen American Defense. When she was arrested, pictures show her as a short, chunky blonde. Now on trial, she sits in court in Tucson as a somewhat slimmed-down brunette.

The two men will be tried later in the year, but prosecutors say it was Forde who organized the crime. They say Forde thought Flores was a drug dealer who had guns, drugs and money, which could be used to finance Minutemen efforts.

The killers found no drugs and little money. Leaders of the now-fractured Minutemen movement have disowned her. But a few years ago, Forde was an enthusiastic voice.

Shawna Forde appeared on TV a number of times, including this interview at a Minutemen camp on the border, which she claimed was a dangerous place.

Ms. SHAWNA FORDE: Yes. I carry a gun all the time. Right here. Right there. Always. I feel very secure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ROBBINS: Before her notoriety as a Minuteman, Shawna Forde had a checkered past: busted for burglary, theft and prostitution as a teen; jobs as a hairdresser, aircraft worker. She even ran for city council in Everett, Washington.

Forde's defense against the murders is simple. She was not at the Flores home. Here's her lawyer, Eric Larsen, in his opening statement.

Mr. ERIC LARSEN (Lawyer): The state will present to you absolutely...

ROBBINS: The state will present to you absolutely no witnesses who will put her in that home, Larsen says. No fingerprints, no DNA, nothing. But the prosecution has been slowly building its case with witnesses who say she discussed the plan with her accomplices and friends, and incriminating text messages afterward.

Prosecutors say Forde had Gina Gonzales' stolen jewelry in her possession. Jason Bush has already confessed to the murders, and implicated both Forde and Gaxiola. If she's convicted, Shawna Forde could receive the death penalty.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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