Arizona Rancher Accused of Shooting Migrant Has Two Main Defense Options

Rancher George Alan Kelly, who was arrested last month for allegedly murdering a Mexican man on his ranch, has two main options regarding defense, according to an attorney.

Kelly, 73, a rancher who lives near Arizona's border with Mexico, has been accused by authorities of killing Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea after allegedly firing an AK-47 into a fleeing group of unarmed border crossers on his Nogales ranch on January 30, according to a New York Post report.

On March 6, Kelly pleaded not guilty to the charges of second-degree murder and aggravated assault at the Santa Cruz Superior Court.

AK47 Stock image
Stock image of an AK47 and bullets on a table. Rancher George Alan Kelly, who was arrested last month for allegedly murdering a Mexican man on his ranch, has two main options when it comes to a defense, according to an attorney. Getty

Kelly's defense team has said that he thought he was being besieged by armed traffickers, who he says have previously passed through his property while visibly armed.

Phoenix, Arizona, attorney David Black spoke to Newsweek and explained what strategy Kelly's defense would apply and explained why the prosecution lowered Kelly's charge from first-degree murder to second.

Mexico officials have told US prosecutors that they believe Kelly should have faced a first-degree murder charge.

Speaking to Newsweek, Black said: "The prosecution would have been required to prove premeditation to go with first-degree murder, whereas second-degree requires extreme indifference to human life (i.e., shooting into a group of people).

"The latter is much easier to prove and fits the facts better from what I have read."

Speaking about the defense's strategy, Black said: "The defense could argue any number of justification defenses, but Kelly's statements seem to undercut many possible arguments.

"If I were his lawyer I would think (a) can they prove the client actually shot the gun; if so, move on to (b) and argue the shots fired were warning shots permitted under Defense of Premises; were fired in self-defense because I thought the trespassers had firearms; or was to prevent some other crime."

Black also outlined the details regarding defending one's home in Arizona. He said: "In terms of defense theories, in Arizona, one can defend one's 'premises,' which includes real property, by threatening deadly force to stop a trespass. This means I can hold up my gun and even point it at someone to stop them from coming onto my property.

"However, if I shoot them (or shoot the gun at all in their direction) I would need a reasonable belief that I needed to defend myself or another from similar deadly physical violation."

Kelly has remained free on $1 million bail and Judge Thomas Fink has set a trial date of September 6.