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Arizona rancher who shot dead ‘cartel drug smuggler’ on property says he doesn’t know what to expect

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An Arizona rancher who shot dead a migrant on his land that sits adjacent to the southern border with Mexico, said he did not know what to expect as he walked into court on Friday to face charges of second degree murder.  

George Alan Kelly, 74, attended an evidentiary hearing in Nogales, Arizona. 

He was arrested on charges of first degree murder for shooting Gabriel Cuen-Butimea on January 30 at his home, but that charge has now been downgraded.

Kelly denies murder, insisting he only ever fired warning shots when he saw what he perceived to be a gang of cartel smugglers on his land. 

‘I dont expect anything,’ Kelly said to NewsNation. ‘What happens, happens. I have no comment about anything else.’ 

George Alan Kelly, 74, was arrested on charges of first degree murder for shooting Gabriel Cuen-Butimea on January 30 at his home

George Alan Kelly, 74, was arrested on charges of first degree murder for shooting Gabriel Cuen-Butimea on January 30 at his home

NewsNation's Ali Bradley walks with  Kelly, accused of murder after allegedly shooting and killing a Mexican national on his border property

NewsNation’s Ali Bradley walks with  Kelly, accused of murder after allegedly shooting and killing a Mexican national on his border property

He is shown arriving at court today after being freed on a $1million bond

He is shown arriving at court today after being freed on a $1million bond

Asked whether he felt the charges were fair or unfair, Kelly simply replied ‘no comment.’

A former Border Patrol chief says the area is known for ‘violence’ and the man was likely a cartel drug smuggler or scout. 

Rodney Scott, who was previously a supervisor in the area, told NewsNation that the area has a ‘propensity for violence’. 

Everything that I have seen, my professional experience would tell me that that guy was either a scout or an actual guide for a group.

‘With the radio, [it’s] much more likely he was actually scouting out in advance, or the front-man, but that type of activity and behavior doesn’t take place out there unless it’s part of the cartel,’ he said. 

Former Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott, who was previously a supervisor in the area, told NewsNation that the area has a 'propensity for violence'

Former Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott, who was previously a supervisor in the area, told NewsNation that the area has a ‘propensity for violence’

He added: ‘That has been a tough area to work for many, many years. The cartel operation in that area has had a propensity for violence.

‘A good friend of mine was actually pinned down by automatic weapons fire for 20 minutes while the cartel came, recovered the narcotics they were trying to smuggle in.’ 

On Friday, the first degree charge against Kelly was dramatically downgraded to second degree murder amid growing questions surrounding the case, and after well-wishers raised enough money for Kelly to meet his $1million bail.

Kelly – who has no criminal history – told called Border Patrol on January 30 at 2.30pm to report a group of Mexican men running through his land. 

He said he was being ‘shot at’ and fired his own warning shots but was careful not to shoot any of the men directly. 

At an evidentiary hearing, Kelly’s Brenna Larkin grilled the detective who questioned Kelly after his arrest. 

She suggested it was entirely possible that a rival cartel could have shot Cuen-Butimea – not Kelly – but that cops tried to get him to admit to it anyway. 

The detective had testified that he found an AK-47 shell casing on Kelly’s porch. 

‘Isn’t the AK47 is most common rifle carried by drug smugglers?’ Larkin asked. 

‘Yes.’ 

She argued the investigation was biased from the beginning.

Prosecutors called to the stand a Mexican man who claims he was with Cuen-Butimea on the day he was shot. 

Answering questions with the help of a translator, the man – going only by his initials – claims he works ‘in the fields’.

He admitted illegally crossing into the US ‘six or seven times’, and said he was caught by border patrol agents ‘every time’.

Gabriel Cuen-Butimea, 48, was shot dead on January 30 while on George Kelly's land. He was wearing combat boots and was carrying a radio - which the border patrol chief says suggests he was part of the cartel

Gabriel Cuen-Butimea, 48, was shot dead on January 30 while on George Kelly’s land. He was wearing combat boots and was carrying a radio – which the border patrol chief says suggests he was part of the cartel 

Kelly's ranch in Nogales is a stone's throw from the border. Nogales is a known hot zone for drug smuggling, where the cartel is 'particularly aggressive', according to border agents

Kelly’s ranch in Nogales is a stone’s throw from the border. Nogales is a known hot zone for drug smuggling, where the cartel is ‘particularly aggressive’, according to border agents 

Kelly, 74, was charged with first degree murder and taken to the county jail in January. He begged to be allowed to go home to look after his wife, but a judge refused. Finally yesterday, he was freed after well-wishers raised enough money for him to make bond

Kelly, 74, was charged with first degree murder and taken to the county jail in January. He begged to be allowed to go home to look after his wife, but a judge refused. Finally yesterday, he was freed after well-wishers raised enough money for him to make bond 

Kelly's ranch in Arizona where he says he fired warning shots from his porch

Kelly’s ranch in Arizona where he says he fired warning shots from his porch 

The detective admitted that Kelly had called Border Patrol liaisons in the past begging for  help, and that sheriffs always took too long to respond. 

Prosecutors described Cuen-Butimea as an ‘innocent man who was shot in the back while running for his life’. 

They wanted to keep Kelly in prison to allow two other Mexican men to testify in court. 

Those men say they were there that day, and that Kelly also shot at them. He was charged with first degree murder and put on a $1million bond immediately. 

Earlier this week, after submitting a full-throated defense, the judge agreed to convert his bond from cash to surety. 

It allowed him to combine the value of  his home with $350,000 raised by strangers on a GiveSendGo account and return home to his wife Wanda. 

KELLY’S VERSION OF THE STORY: GANG OF DRUG RUNNERS IN COMBAT BOOTS AND CARRYING RADIOS WERE HEARD FIRING THEIR GUNS AND RUNNING THROUGH HIS LAND 

The following description is taken from a motion filed by George Alan Kelly’s attorney in court.  

On January 30, George Alan Kelly reported the discovery of a body on his property near Kino Springs, where he and his wife have lived for the past two decades. 

Earlier in the day, he had completed chores on his ranch and had come to his house to eat lunch with his wife. 

As they ate, Mr. Kelly heard a single gunshot. Next, he saw his horse – who is old – running away scared and at full speed. Finally, he saw a group of men moving through the trees around his home. 

They were armed with AK-47 rifles, dressed in khakis and camouflaged clothing, and carrying large backpacks. None of them were known to him. He hadn’t given any of them permission to come onto his land. Based on the foregoing, Mr. Kelly was understandably concerned and reasonably feared for his safety.

He called the United States Border Patrol Ranch Liaison to report what he had seen and to summon immediate help. He told his wife to stay inside, away from the windows, and to stay silent so as not to alert the men to her presence.

Mr. Kelly then went to the porch with his rifle. The leader of the armed group of men saw Mr. Kelly and pointed an AK-47 right at him. 

Mr. Kelly, fearing for his life and safety, fired several shots from his rifle, hoping to scare them away from his wife, his animals and his home.

Mr. Kelly took care to aim well over the heads of the armed group of men. 

In a written defense submitted to the court, Kelly's attorneys described how he was at home having lunch when he heard shots fired outside and then saw his horse running. He called border patrol, and later the sheriff's department. None of them found the victim's body initially

In a written defense submitted to the court, Kelly’s attorneys described how he was at home having lunch when he heard shots fired outside and then saw his horse running. He called border patrol, and later the sheriff’s department. None of them found the victim’s body initially 

The group then began running into the desert surrounding his home. Once the group had fled, Mr. Kelly walked over to his barn to see if it was safe and secure.

Mr. Kelly had a conversation with Border Patrol again that ended at 2.36pm….while Mr. Kelly was checking his barn, a number of Border Patrol agents and Sheriff’s deputies arrived on the property.

[They] walked all over Mr. Kelly’s property in search of the group of people and did not find anybody. 

Later that day, as the sun was going down, Mr. Kelly went to his pastures in order to check on his horse. He took his dogs with him. After locating the horse, Mr. Kelly noticed that his dogs were focused on something on the ground near a mesquite tree. Mr. Kelly approached his dogs and observed a body lying face down in the grass.

Mr. Kelly then called Border Patrol Ranch Liaison again. 

The body was that of a male foreign national. The person did not have any firearms or a backpack on him. The cause of death appeared to be a single gunshot wound and it appeared the body was fresh. 

The person had a radio with him and he was wearing tactical boots, indicating that he was possible involved in illegal activity.

Mr. Kelly does not believe that any of his warning shots could have possibly hit the person or caused the death. 

All of the shooting that Mr. Kelly did on the date of that incident was in self-defense and justified.

PROSECUTORS & MIGRANTS’ VERSION OF THE STORY: KELLY EMERGED ‘UNPROVOKED’ WITH AK-47 AND STARTED SHOOTING AT ‘INNOCENT’ MEN WHO ‘POSED NO THREAT TO HIS FAMILY’ 

The following description is taken from a filing submitted by Santa Cruz County Attorney George E. Silva and Chief Deputy County Attorney Kimberly Hunley. 

On January 30, 2023, at around 2.30pm, a group of approximately 7 to 8 undocumented immigrants were traveling north through the Kino Springs area from Mexico. Contrary to Kelly’s account, no one in the group was carrying any weapons. 

The group , which included R.F-G and D.R.-R, was within sight of the Kelly residence when out of nowhere, Kelly began to shoot at them with an AK-47. Kelly issued no warnings and made no requests.

He just started shooting at them. D.R-R was just one step behind Gabriel when he heard Gabriel call out in Spanish: ‘I’m hit’, grab his chest and fall to the ground. He saw Gabriel’s eyes roll back in his head and when he could only see the whites of his eyes, he knew that Gabriel was dead.

He felt like they were being hunted. Kelly shot at least 8 rounds at them, Both R.F-G and D.R-R jumped the fence and made it back to Mexico. Are willing and available to testify.

Approximately 6 minutes later, Kelly called Agent Morsell again. This time Kelly said he lost visual of the subjects running toward Kino Springs. When asked if he was being shot at, Kelly claimed he heard a gunshot in his direction. He saw his horse running by and he was inspecting his horse but he didn’t appear to be stuck,

Prosecutors have now filed additional charges against Kelly for aggravated assault

Prosecutors have now filed additional charges against Kelly for aggravated assault 

Prosecutors asked for Kelly to remain in jail on a $1million so that the victim's family in Mexico could travel over the border and attend proceedings

Prosecutors asked for Kelly to remain in jail on a $1million so that the victim’s family in Mexico could travel over the border and attend proceedings

Kelly said it was ‘too far to tell if they had any firearms’. Border Patrol Agents and Sheriff’s Deputies responded to the scene and walked the property. They did not locate anything at that time,

Kelly called Agent Morsell again at 4.23pm. By this time, his story had significantly changed. He told Agent Morsell he was sitting in the house with his wife when ‘we’ heard a gunshot.

He said he saw 10 subjects all loaded down with AR Assault rifles. He said his wife saw it too.

Then at 5.23pm, he tried calling Agent Morsell again. He left a message saying ‘you need to call me immediately. This is serious. Call me immediately. I can’t say more over the phone.’

Agent Morsell returned his call. At this point, Kelly’s tone had completely changed. He sounded nervous or scared. Kelly said: ‘This is worse than you can imagine. This is bad.’ 

Kelly told him that he needed Morsell to send Border Patrol because this is a broader issue.

When Morsell requested the details, Kelly continued to be evasive and said: ‘This is bad. I need someone to respond out here.’ You know how shots were fired earlier, something was possibly shot. I can’t say more over the phone.

One of the deputies turned on the recorder on his phone while they talked and walked with Kelly. Kelly told him that there was a shot fired and he didn’t know what it was about. He went out to get his horse. 

He said he ‘walked all over it’ and claimed ‘maybe this happened after you left’ referring to the earlier visit by deputies.

He said ‘there’s a body over there, as soon as I saw it I backed away from it.’ Later, Kelly spoke with detectives. After initially denying that he shot at the group, he later admitted shooting. 

He claimed he directed his shots over the heads of the group.





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