Arizona rancher avoids retrial in illegal immigrant shooting case

Prosecutors decline to pursue second trial after hung jury, citing the 'unique circumstances' of the case.

Arizona rancher avoids retrial in illegal immigrant shooting case
Mark Henle/The Arizona Republic via AP, Pool, File
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George Alan Kelly, a 75-year-old Arizona rancher accused of murdering an illegal immigrant trespassing on his property, will not face a second trial after a jury failed to reach a verdict following several days of deliberation earlier this month.

Prosecutors for Santa Cruz County announced Monday they would not seek to retry Kelly for the death of 48-year-old Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea, who was found dead on Kelly's property in January 2023, the Daily Wire reported.

Kelly, who maintained his innocence and pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge in March 2023, had been on trial for four weeks. His legal team revealed that the jury had been 7-1 in favor of acquitting the rancher.

"Because of the unique circumstances and challenges surrounding this case, the Santa Cruz County Attorney's Office has decided not to seek a retrial," Chief deputy Santa Cruz County attorney Kim Hunley stated.

However, Hunley's office emphasized their decision "should not be construed as a position on future cases of this type" and that they take their statutory mandate to prosecute criminal acts seriously.

Defense lawyer Kathy Lowthorp expressed her joy at the decision, stating, "I'm just so happy for them. We got the right answer. I think he's ready to get out of the area. This has not been a very fun year and a half."

The case centered around the shooting of Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea, a Mexican national, on January 31, 2023, when he was trespassing with a group of other suspected illegal immigrants on Kelly's property near Nogales, Arizona. The defense argued that Kelly only fired warning shots and did not shoot Cuen-Buitimea, while Santa Cruz County prosecutor Mike Jette accused Kelly of escalating the situation and killing Cuen-Buitimea.

Mexico's consul general in Nogales, Marcos Moreno Báez, expressed disappointment with the decision, stating, "The Consulate General deeply regrets lack of justice to the victims, particularly Mr. Cuen's daughters, whom we accompanied since day one."

Moreno Báez added that the victim's family had anticipated the verdict based on the "very negative narrative concerning migration flows" they witnessed throughout the trial.

Cuen-Buitimea had previously been deported from the United States after reportedly entering the country multiple times.

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