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Border Vigilante Receives Death Penalty for Two Murders

A jury in Pima County, Arizona has decided that border vigilante leader Shawna Forde, 42, should receive the death penalty for her role in the May 2009 murders of Raul Junior Flores and his nine-year-old daughter Brisenia. Earlier, the jury convicted Forde of two counts of first–degree murder and of attempting to murder Flores's wife, Gina Gonzalez.  Forde was also convicted of related aggravated assault and robbery charges.

According to authorities, Forde was the ringleader in the murder plot and recruited two men, Albert Gaxiola and white supremacist Jason Bush to break into the home of Flores and Gonzalez in Arivaca, near the Mexican border. Forde believed that Flores was a drug smuggler and wanted to rob him in order to finance the anti-immigrant activities of her border vigilante group, the Minuteman American Defense (MAD).

Gonzalez testified that Forde and Bush forced their way into the Flores household, identifying themselves as law enforcement officers looking for fugitives. When Flores questioned their story, Bush allegedly opened fire, killing Flores and wounding Gonzalez. He then reportedly shot Brisenia in the head. After Forde and her accomplice left the scene, Gonzales recounted that Forde returned to the house and ordered the gunman to shoot Gonzalez after seeing that she survived the shooting. Gonzalez then retrieved a weapon from her home and fired at Bush, wounding him.

After the shootings, Forde and Bush reportedly told various people that Bush has been shot by border bandits. Authorities arrested Bush and Gaxiola within two weeks of the murders. They are scheduled to go on trial March 15 and June 1, respectively.

Forde, who denied involvement in the murders, did not testify at her trial. Throughout her imprisonment and trial, she continued to receive support from some of the extreme elements within the anti-immigrant movement.  One major supporter is Laine Lawless, an Arizona anti-immigration activist who has been associated with several border vigilante groups. In August 2009, Lawless launched a Web site for the purpose of defending Forde against charges of murder.

Forde was a Washington-based Minuteman leader who frequently traveled to Arizona and was active along the United States-Mexican border. Her group, MAD had been affiliated with the Minuteman Project, for which Forde served as the Border Operations Director. The Minuteman Project, once one of the largest Minutemen border vigilante groups, is largely inactive. Forde co-founded MAD because she wanted to take it to a more "aggressive and active level" than the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps (MCDC), another prominent and currently inactive national Minuteman group, of which she has also been a member. She also claimed to be a member of the Patriot Border Alliance, a border vigilante group formed by former MCDC state directors.

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