An earlier version of this article about the Arizona murder trial of Shawna Forde misstated the timing of the two killings in which she is charged. The article originally said that Brisenia Flores, 9, and her father, Raul, were killed two months after Arizona rancher Robert Krentz, whose unrelated killing was widely used as an example of the dangers along the Mexican border. In fact, the Flores killings, in a May 30, 2009, raid that prosecutors say was organized by Forde, occurred 10 months before Krentz was killed. This version has been corrected.
Trial of anti-illegal immigration activist accused in killings spotlights tense climate along border
Saturday, February 5, 2011; 9:49 PM
After Arizona rancher Robert Krentz was killed on his land last year by a man police believe was an illegal immigrant, television networks and more than 300 newspapers wrote about his death as an example of the dangers on the border.
Ten months before Krentz was killed, 9-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father, Raul, were shot to death in their home, 150 miles from Krentz's ranch. Their attackers were allegedly affiliated with an militia group opposed to illegal immigration that was conducting raids to steal money.
The Flores case is now being tried in Tucson, and immigrant rights activists contend that it deserves more attention. The reason why: The raid was allegedly organized by Shawna Forde, 43, head of a fringe border patrol group called Minutemen American Defense.
Forde's murder trial, which has been marked by vivid testimony over the past two weeks, has become a cause celebre among proponents of overhauling U.S. immigration law, who cite the killings as an example of the risks of extremism in the immigration debate.
"There has been the prospect of people taking the law into their own hands for some time," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, which advocates a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. "The rhetoric, the hate mail. It's unbelievable."
The organization Cuentame posted a video online last week asking, "Is hate turning to violence?" It elicited hundreds of comments.
But unlike the Krentz case, the trial has been a largely local story.
"There's a few places writing about this, but it is not getting the attention it deserves," said Eric Rodriguez, vice president of the National Council of La Raza. "It should be shocking to more people. Is there any circumstance where what took place is acceptable to people?"
Krentz's shooting, which for a time was a staple of news coverage and has been brought up in homeland security hearings on Capitol Hill, struck a nerve in part because of the government's failure to deal with illegal immigration. Arizona, which the Pew Hispanic Center reported this month is home to 400,000 undocumented immigrants, has passed tough legislation in recent months to crack down on those who are in the country illegally.
Forde's small Minuteman group was known for tough rhetoric on illegal immigration. According to police, Forde believed Flores was a drug trafficker and planned to seize money and drugs from him to fund her group's patrol efforts. Police found no drugs in the home and little money.
During the early-morning incident, Brisenia Flores was shot twice and Raul Flores multiple times. Brisenia's mother, Gina Gonzalez, was shot twice but survived and called 911.
Prosecutors accuse Forde of leading the raid, shouting orders to two men, her alleged accomplices, who will stand trial this spring. Defense attorney Eric Larsen counters that there's no direct evidence that she organized the raid or was at the house at the time of the shooting.