Trial Continues for Arizona Rancher Charged in Shooting Death of Illegal Immigrant

Allan Stein
By Allan Stein
April 3, 2024US News
Trial Continues for Arizona Rancher Charged in Shooting Death of Illegal Immigrant
Krista Timm (R), a forensic pathologist with the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office testifies at Santa Cruz County Superior Court in Nogales, Ariz., on April 2, 2024. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

NOGALES, Ariz.—An illegal immigrant suffered massive internal injuries from a single gunshot wound the night he was found dead on the property of an Arizona rancher accused of his murder, according to a forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy.

However, the exact time of death remains a mystery, Dr. Krista Timm, a forensic pathologist at the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office in Tucson, told a jury in Santa Cruz County Superior Court on April 2.

Dr. Timm testified that she performed the autopsy on Feb. 1, 2023, which included an examination of the victim’s wounds and internal injuries and a toxicology analysis.

While investigators pronounced the victim dead at the scene at 6:24 p.m. on Jan. 30, 2023, in accordance with Arizona law, Dr. Timm said the determination was “reasonable” and “proximate,” not the actual time of death.

Based on the autopsy results, “it doesn’t seem like he’d been dead for four days,” said Dr. Timm, an expert witness for the prosecution in the second-degree murder trial of George Alan Kelly, 75.

Mr. Kelly is accused of firing the bullet from an AK-47 semi-automatic rifle that struck and killed Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea, 48, an illegal immigrant from Mexico.

He also faces two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in connection with the shooting incident.

The prosecution alleges that Mr. Kelly fired the fatal shot from a distance of 115 yards from his ranch house patio at about 2:30 p.m. However, investigators failed to locate a body during a general search of his property later that afternoon.

Mr. Kelly discovered Mr. Buitimea lying face down in the tall grass a few hours later as he went to check on his horse. He then called Border Patrol, who relayed the matter to the county sheriff’s department.

Investigators retrieved nine shell casings from the patio area that a ballistics expert testified were consistent with the ammunition used in Mr. Kelly’s AK-47.

Authorities have yet to retrieve the bullet that struck and killed Mr. Buitimea.

During cross-examination by Pima County Attorney Michael Jetty, Dr. Timm testified that the bullet entered Mr. Buitimea from the right side just below the shoulder blade.

The prosecution presented autopsy photos showing the entry and exit wounds, as well as abrasions on his right forearm, left knee, and leg.

Dr. Timm said the bullet’s trajectory broke three of Mr. Buitimea’s ribs and tore through his aorta, right lung, and other soft tissue, including the sternum, or breastplate, before exiting from his chest.

She testified that she recovered 50 milliliters of pooled blood around the victim’s heart, enough to fill two Dixie cups and 340 milliliters of blood from his chest cavity, or seven times the amount.

An examination of the bullet’s path through the victim’s body indicates the projectile traveled in an upward trajectory from right to left, causing “very significant” injuries and internal bleeding.

NTD Photo
Accused second-degree murder suspect George Alan Kelly (L) confers with a defense attorney in Santa Cruz County Superior Court in Nogales, Ariz., on March 29, 2024. (Allan Stein/The Epoch Times)

Dr. Timm further testified that the victim might still have had the ability to walk a short distance before succumbing to his injuries.

While the autopsy found no bullet fragments that would indicate the exact type of bullet or firearm that caused the gunshot wound, Dr. Timm said the amount of trauma suggested the damage was “most consistent” with a projectile fired from a high-powered rifle.

Death Ruled Homicide

“I don’t know how the bullet was when it entered the body. I know the bullet as it went through the body,” Dr. Timm said.

“The bullet takes an upward trajectory in the body. I do not know outside of that.”

Dr. Timm said the autopsy concluded that Mr. Buitimea died from a “perforating gunshot wound to the trunk” and ruled it a homicide.

“There’s no retained bullet yet,” she also testified.

The autopsy also found no evidence of gunpowder residue on the wound or surrounding skin, which typically shows up in cases involving “intermediate-range” shots made between 2 inches and 2 feet from the victim.

“He was clothed, so I wouldn’t expect to see [gunshot wound residue],” Dr. Timm further stated.

“Yes, it would show up on the clothing, [but] not the body.”

Dr. Timm later testified under cross-examination by defense attorney Kathy Lowthorp that placing the victim’s body in a cadaver refrigerator might have altered the rate of decomposition before the autopsy and skewed an accurate timeline of death.

During the investigation, Mr. Kelly reportedly told investigators he saw a group of five to seven illegal immigrants, all wearing backpacks and possibly armed, crossing his property on the day of the incident. He then heard a gunshot and saw the men running south in the direction of the border wall.

He also told investigators that he fired warning shots over the heads of the men he believed to be drug “mules” with his AK-47.

Tarah Helgel, a manager and forensic scientist at the RJ Lee Group in Pennsylvania, testified for the prosecution that a forensic examination of the victim’s clothing tested negative for gunshot residue.

County prosecutors have argued that the lack of gunpowder residue indicates the victim died from a shot made by a high-powered rifle from a distance.

The position of the victim and entry wound facing Mr. Kelly’s ranch house further suggests that the shot likely came from Mr. Kelly’s porch about 350 feet away to the north.

Defense attorneys contend that without an actual bullet, the state’s case falls short of proving what type of firearm caused the fatal shot or if Mr. Kelly fired the weapon that killed Mr. Cuen-Buitimea.

Testimony in the monthlong trial resumes on April 3, followed by a scheduled viewing of the crime scene by jury members on April 9.

From The Epoch Times

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