Arizona justice: Shawna Forde death sentence a rebuke to border vigilantes
An Arizona jury on Tuesday handed down a death sentence for Shawna Forde, leader of Minutemen American Defense. She was convicted in the killings of two border residents in 2009 – a case Latinos say should have prompted greater outcry from political leaders.
Arizona is known for its tough stance against illegal immigrants, but this week a jury here sent a strong message of rebuke to anti-immigrant vigilante groups as well, sentencing the leader of a border watch group to death for her role in the 2009 home-invasion murders of a 9-year-old Hispanic-American girl and her father.Skip to next paragraph
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Latinos in Arizona had decried politicians' lack of attention to the brutal slayings, contrasting it with the more intense reaction to the murder of a white rancher in Cochise County last March, allegedly at the hands of an illegal border-crosser.
The death sentence handed down Tuesday in Tucson is against Shawna Forde, a resident of Washington State who headed the Minutemen American Defense group. She was convicted Feb. 14 of first-degree murder for orchestrating the killings of Brisenia and Raul Junior Flores of Arivaca, Ariz., a small community just north of the Mexican border.
“I think that the nation as a whole sees us as the wild, wild West, that things like that are going to be OK with us,” says Angie Thomas, who sat on the jury. “And they’re not.”
The case has drawn back the curtain to reveal the dark side of the debate raging in Arizona over illegal immigration.
Ms. Thomas and fellow jurors were told during the trial that Ms. Forde and accomplices gained entry to the Flores home with the expectation of finding drugs there, which could be sold to finance Minutemen American Defense's border-control operations. Finding no drugs, the intruders made away with inexpensive jewelry but, prosecutors said, not before fatally shooting young Brisenia and Mr. Flores. Both victims were American citizens born in the US.
“I see Shawna Forde as someone who would have liked to have been the face of a movement,” Thomas says.
Arriving at the death sentence was difficult, Thomas says, but it was aided by a picture of Brisenia presented during trial that was etched in her mind: “A little girl, with bright red fingernails; she’s wearing a white T-shirt and turquoise-colored pajama bottoms. She’s on a love seat. It’s a perfect, innocent picture until you realize that half of her face has been blown off.”
Brisenia’s mother and Mr. Flores’s wife, Gina Gonzalez, was wounded during the shooting but survived. She testified that her daughter was shot point-blank as the girl pleaded for her life.