Firearms Expert Testifies No Gunshot Residue Found on Arizona Ranch Shooting Victim

Allan Stein
By Allan Stein
April 10, 2024US News
Firearms Expert Testifies No Gunshot Residue Found on Arizona Ranch Shooting Victim
Accused murder suspect George Alan Kelly and his wife Wanda leave the superior court in Nogales, Ariz., on April 9, 2024. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

NOGALES, Ariz.—An expert firearms witness in the murder trial of George Alan Kelly told a jury on April 9 that forensic tests showed no gunshot residue was present on the clothing of an illegal immigrant found fatally shot on his property.

Aaron Brudnell, a forensic firearms specialist with the Arizona Department of Public Safety, said the bullet that struck and killed Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea on Jan. 30, 2023, was consistent with an AK-47 rifle like the one Mr. Kelly allegedly used in the shooting.

On the ninth day of testimony, Mr. Brudnell also testified that he examined all nine shell casings investigators recovered from the patio area of the Kelly residence where the defendant allegedly fired the weapon at the victim.

He said the shell casings in test firings were consistent with the type of ammunition used in the defendant’s rifle.

“They were all fired from the same gun,” Mr. Brudnell said under cross-examination by state’s prosecutor Michael Jetty.

Mr. Brudnell also based his conclusion on the similar ejection pattern made by the rifle in the test firing with the actual shell cases retrieved at the alleged crime scene.

Based on the medical examiner’s report, the wounds indicated the projectile was “not hitting in a stable configuration,” he said.

He said this suggested the bullet may have struck an “intermediate object” that altered the motion of the bullet before it hit the victim.

Mr. Brudnell said he tested the victim’s camouflage-colored jacket for gunshot residue but found none.

The witness said he found no evidence of “bullet wipe” on the jacket’s entry and exit holes. A bullet wipe involves the transfer of lead and other chemicals from the bullet as it penetrates an object.

Mr. Brudnell testified, “I found no visible particles, residues, or traces of lead” on the victim’s jacket.

“I can’t confirm [the perforations] came from bullet holes [but] they appear to be bullet holes. The lack of bullet wipe suggests to me [the bullet was] interrupted by an intermediate object” before hitting the jacket and entering the victim.

Mr. Kelly, 75, faces charges of second-degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in the shooting death of Mr. Buitimea, 48, an illegal immigrant from Mexico.

The defendant claims that on the day of the shooting, he saw through a kitchen window a group of men in camouflage clothing and backpacks walking along a fence line to the south.

He suspected the men were drug “mules,” or drug packers for the cartel. The men appeared to have rifles, and when the defendant heard a gunshot, he told his wife to stay quiet as he grabbed his AK-47 and stepped out onto the porch.


NTD Photo
Prosecutors in the second-degree murder trial of George Alan Kelly contend he made the shot that killed an illegal immigrant from a distance of 116 yards from his patio area on Jan. 30, 2023. Photo taken in Santa Cruz County Superior Court, on April 5, 2024. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

His wife, Wanda Kelly, testified she heard several shots close by, and that she assumed they were “warning shots” made by her husband to chase the men away.

Investigators did not locate a body during an initial search of the Kelly’s property. Mr. Kelly would later tell investigators he discovered the victim lying face down 116 yards away from the ranch house several hours later while checking on his horse.

Detective Sgt. Joseph Bunting, a 22-year veteran with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department, testified on April 9 that metal detectors did not locate the bullet that allegedly caused the victim’s fatal wounds.

Mr. Bunting testified for the prosecution that he was unable to locate objects within the line of fire, indicating a bullet had struck them.

A broken mesquite tree limb taken as evidence showed no gunshot residue or bullet wipe when tested by a forensic lab, he said.

During cross-examination, Detective Sgt. Alfonso Flores, a six-year member of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department, testified he had no reason to believe Mr. Buitimea had committed two crimes.

“Before he died, you didn’t believe he was involved in criminal activity?” defense co-counsel Brenna Larkin asked the prosecution witness.

NTD Photo
Investigators in this police photo found homicide victim Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea carrying a two-way radio on his hip on Jan. 30, 2024. Photo taken in Santa Cruz County Superior Court on April 5, 2024. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

Mr. Flores responded he did not.

“Is it a crime to trespass?” Ms. Larkin asked.

“Yes,” the witness replied.

“Is it a crime to enter the United States illegally?”

“Not under state law,” Mr. Flores said.

He qualified his response that it is a crime under federal law.

Mr. Flores testified that the victim’s partially unzipped backpack held food, clothing, and a bottle of water. The victim also had a phone and a two-way radio in his waistband.

In this trial, members of the jury are allowed to ask questions of the witness giving testimony.

Through Judge Thomas Fink, one jury member asked if investigators tried to determine who was on the other end of the radio.

Mr. Flores responded that it was “not a common practice” during an investigation.

A jury view of the alleged crime scene and the border fence where an eyewitness fled back into Mexico will take place on April 11.

Mr. Jetty said the prosecution will rest its case on April 10 or 11, followed by the defense presentation of witnesses.

From The Epoch Times

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