This story was originally published by New America Media.
PHOENIX, Ariz.—Shawna Forde, the founder of a vigilante border group, could face the death penalty after she was found guilty on Monday of killing 9-year-old Bricenia Flores and her father Raúl Flores in 2009. The jury began deliberations on Tuesday on whether or not to impose capital punishment.
Forde, the 43-year-old leader of Minutemen American Defense (MAD), a splinter faction of the Minutemen – a citizen group that patrols the U.S.-Mexico border looking for undocumented people – had pleaded not guilty to the charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and home-invasion.
Prosecutors in Pima County accused Forde of being the intellectual author behind the crime, which entailed breaking into the Flores home to steal money. Forde claims to have believed that Raul Flores was involved with drug dealing, and she had planned to use the stolen money to fund her border vigilante group.
Gina Gonzalez, the mother of 9-year-old victim Bricenia Flores and the only witness in the case, took the stand and gave a heartbreaking account of the massacre that unfolded on May 30, 2009, inside her home in Arivaca, Arizona, just 13 miles from the Mexican border.
Gonzalez said she listened as her 9-year-old daughter Bricenia pleaded for her life, only to then hear the shooter reload his gun and kill the little girl.
The Forde decision comes in the aftermath of a deadly public shooting in Tucson that shook the nation last month and left 6 dead, including another 9-year-old, and 13 more injured, among them Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
The jury’s decision was an unexpected turn of events for human rights activists who believe Latinos are facing a hostile environment in Arizona, a state they say has been welcoming to extremists and border vigilante groups.
“This is the start of a positive path for our state,” said Isabel Garcia, director of Derechos Humanos, a human rights coalition in Tucson, Arizona.
While she was somewhat surprised by the verdict, Garcia hopes that the highly publicized shooting in Tucson last January, coupled with comments made by president Barak Obama during a memorial to the victims, and Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik’s denunciation of what he called a “vitriolic political rhetoric” in the state, may have made an impression in the minds of Arizonans.