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Closings set in border group leader’s murder trial

Attorneys are expected to give closing arguments Thursday in the murder case against an anti-illegal immigrant group leader who is accused of gunning down a 9-year-old girl and her father in what prosecutors say was an attempt to steal drug money to fund border operations.

Shawna Forde, 42, is accused in the May 2009 killings of 29-year-old Raul Flores and his 9-year-old daughter Brisenia at their home in Arivaca, a desert community about 50 miles southwest of Tucson and 10 miles north of Mexico.

Authorities allege that Forde and two men dressed as law enforcement officers forced their way into Flores’ home, shooting him, Brisenia and his wife, Gina Gonzales, who survived her injuries. Flores was believed to be involved with drug trafficking, police say, but officers don’t think the assailants found much cash or drugs in the home.

Forde is the leader of the Minutemen American Defense, a small border watch group, and prosecutors contend that Forde planned the attack to help fund her anti-immigrant operations.

Forde’s defense attorney, Eric Larsen, argued to jurors that Forde was never in the Flores home that night, but that it was the girlfriend of one of the men accused of breaking into the home. He argued that the girlfriend also is blonde and that Gonzales mistakenly blamed Forde after a photo line-up.

Those who know her testified that Forde “is essentially a braggadocio, an exaggerator, full of hot air,” her attorney, Eric Larsen, told The Associated Press. “They never really believed anything she ever said. She frankly just didn’t have the wherewithal to do this.”

Attorneys are expected to wrap up arguments by the end of Thursday. The jury then will begin deliberating.

A 911 recording released by the Pima County Sheriff’s Office in 2009 captures Gonzales pleading for help after her husband and daughter were shot. She is heard crying out in pain from a gunshot wound and then becoming frantic as the attackers return. The sound of nine gunshot wounds is heard as Gonzales engages in a gunbattle with the intruders.

“Oh my God, I can’t believe they killed my family,” Gonzales says on the recording.

Police say Gonzales shot and wounded one of her alleged attackers, Jason Eugene Bush, who officers believe was the gunman. Forde is accused of being the ringleader, and another man, Albert Robert Gaxiola, allegedly provided information about the local area.

Bush and Gaxiola go on trial in the spring.

Before coming to Arizona, Forde lived in Everett, Wash., where she ran for the city council in 2007, promising to allow police to check the immigration status of suspects, according to local news accounts.

Chris Simcox, founder of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, previously told The Associated Press that his group kicked Forde out in 2007 amid allegations of lying and pretending to be a senior leader, and that Forde began her own group, bragging that it would be going after drug cartels. That claim made him worry about the safety of other Minutemen, he said.

“We knew that Shawna Forde was not just an unsavory character but pretty unbalanced, as well,” Simcox said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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