Arizona Border Rancher Accused of Killing Migrant, Now Held With $1 Million Bond

Vermilion Mountain Ranch
Vermilion Mountain Ranch

An Arizona rancher has been arrested in connection with the death of a Mexican national who was shot and killed on the rancher’s property, literally yards north of the Mexican border. 

George KellyGeorge Alan Kelly, 73, was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Gabriel Cuen-Butimea, 48, from Nogales, Mexico. Authorities say Cuen-Butimea was shot Jan. 30 in a remote desert area near Kino Springs, a tiny hamlet in Santa Cruz County. Kelly is being held on a $1 million bond.

Law enforcement have not divulged a motive for the shooting, and details remain sketchy. The incident, however, could develop into a powder keg and further escalate the tense political issue regarding the U.S.-Mexican border.

Here’s what we know. Kelly lives with his wife on their ranch – Vermilion Mountain Ranch – and routinely see migrant trespassers. The couple have reported they fear members of the drug cartels and their heavily armed soldiers trafficking people and drugs.

On the day of the shooting, a sheriff’s dispatch reported a call at around 2:40 p.m. from U.S. Border Patrol about a “possible active shooter” in the area of Sagebrush Road, which is Kelly’s address. CBP apparently received a report from a witness about a “group of people running” and said he was “unsure if he was getting shot at as well.” 

At around 5:50 p.m. on the day of the shooting, sheriff's deputies received another report of shots fired at the property. By 6:42 p.m. they recovered Cuen-Butimea's body. Authorities have said there was no weapon on the victim at the time, and investigators had collected two assault-style rifles from Kelly's property in the aftermath to determine whether either was used in the shooting.

Cuen-Butimea was identified by authorities from his Mexican voter card, and his body was found approximately 150 yards from Kelly’s home. News outlets have reported U.S. federal court records “show Cuen-Butimea has had a history of illegal border crossings and deportations in and around Nogales, with the most recent documented case in 2016.”

While an investigation into the shooting is ongoing, officials have said they don’t have a clear motive and that they don’t think Kelly and Cuen-Butimea knew each other.

Under Arizona law, deadly force is allowed on one's own property if the homeowner believes it “immediately necessary” to prevent trespassing. Other statutes — known as the “stand your ground” laws — also defend the use of physical or deadly force when a homeowner fears a threat and believes force is necessary.

At a preliminary hearing Jan. 31, Kelly asked a judge to reduce his bond so he could help his wife.

“She’s there by herself … nobody to take care of her, the livestock, nor the ranch. And I’m not going anywhere. I can’t come up with a million dollars.”

A GoFundMe account was established to help with Kelly’s legal fees, but the account was quickly taken down, FOX News Digital reports.

"GoFundMe’s Terms of Service explicitly prohibit campaigns that raise money to cover the legal defense of anyone formally charged with an alleged violent crime. Consistent with this long-standing policy, any fundraising campaigns for the legal defense of someone charged with murder are removed from our platform," a spokesperson for GoFundMe said in a statement to Fox News Digital. "Donors who contributed to the fundraising campaigns for George Alan Kelly’s legal expenses have been fully refunded."

An active fundraiser for Kelly remains on the Christian crowdfunding platform GiveSendGo which had raised over $16,000 on Friday morning.

"Neighbors say that he had been having difficulty keeping invaders out and say that Mr. Kelly would have acted in good faith," the fundraiser's organizer, Shannon Pritchard, wrote. "It is a tragedy that a simple farmer, who should be protected by the government, has been abandoned and had to defend himself."




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