The first-degree murder charge against an Arizona rancher suspected of killing a Mexican man on his land was amended on Tuesday, February 21st, to include two counts of aggravated assault against a pair of other people.
The filing in Santa Cruz County Justice Court in the border city of Nogales, Arizona, was the first public mention of the possibility other people may have been hurt in the Jan. 30 incident. The updated complaint used only initials for the two other people suspected of having been assaulted and did not list their nationalities.
The new counts come on the eve of a preliminary hearing for rancher George Alan Kelly, who faces a first-degree murder charge in the fatal shooting of Gabriel Cuen-Butimea, who lived just south of the border in Nogales, Mexico. U.S. federal court records show Cuen-Butimea was convicted of illegal entry and deported back to Mexico several times, most recently in 2016.
Kelly, 73, is set to appear at 9 a.m. MT (11 a.m. ET) Wednesday in Santa Cruz County Justice Court.
His attorney, Brenna Larkin, has said Kelly did not shoot and kill the man, but he acknowledges that earlier that day he fired warning shots at smugglers carrying AK-47 rifles and backpacks he encountered on his property.
“He does not believe that any of his warning shots could have possibly hit the person or caused the death,” Larkin said in a court filing earlier this month. “All the shooting that Mr. Kelly did on the date of the incident was in self-defense and justified.”
Kelly’s ranch is just outside Nogales, Arizona, city limits in the Kino Springs area.
The Mexican consulate in Nogales has not publicly commented on the case.
The shooting has sparked strong political feelings less than six months after a prison warden and his brother were arrested in a West Texas shooting that killed one migrant and wounded another. Michael and Mark Sheppard, both 60, were charged with manslaughter in the September shooting in El Paso County.
Authorities allege the twin brothers pulled over their truck near a town about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the border and opened fire on a group of migrants getting water along the road. A male migrant died, and a female suffered a gunshot wound to the stomach.
GoFundMe campaigns to pay for Kelly’s legal defense have been shut down because of the seriousness of the case and the money was returned to donors, the platform said last week in a statement.
“GoFundMe’s Terms of Service explicitly prohibit campaigns that raise money to cover the legal defense of anyone formally charged with an alleged violent crime,” it said. “Consistent with this long-standing policy, any fundraising campaigns for the legal defense of someone charged with murder are removed from our platform.”
GiveSendGo, which describes itself as a Christian fundraising platform, carries at least four campaigns collecting money for Kelly’s legal defense, including one that had gathered more than $300,000 as of Tuesday.
Kelly apparently drew on his borderlands ranching life in the self-published novel “Far Beyond the Border Fence,” which is described on Amazon.com as a “contemporary novel which brings the Mexican Border/Drug conflict into the 21st century.”
Authored by a man with the same name, the 57-page novel focuses on a man named George and his wife, Wanda, also the name of Kelly’s real-life wife.
“Several times each week illegal immigrants would cross the VMR ranch,” reads one part. “They were led by armed human smugglers called Coyotes. George and his foreman had to patrol the ranch daily, armed with AK-47s.”