The elderly Arizona rancher accused of killing a Mexican national only fired “warning shots” after a group of men pointed an assault rifle at him and he later discovered the dead man on his property, his defense lawyer claimed.
George Alan Kelly — who is facing first-degree, premeditated murder charges in the shooting death of the Mexican citizen believed to be 48-year-old Gabriel Cuen-Butimea — acted in self-defense when he fired his rifle on Jan. 30, his court-appointed attorney Brenna Larkin said in court filing obtained by Fox News.
Kelly, 78, heard a single gunshot while he was inside his ranch near the border and then saw a group of men dressed in camouflage running through the woods near his home, Larkin wrote, according to the outlet.
“None of them were known to him. He had not given any of them permission to come onto his land,” she said in the filing.
Kelly called the US Border Patrol ranch liaison and then went out onto his porch with his rifle, the court doc stated.
He then found himself staring down the barrel of an AK-47 rifle, his lawyer said.
“The leader of the armed group of men saw Mr. Kelly and pointed an AK-47 right at him,” Larkin wrote. “Mr. Kelly, fearing for his life and safety, fired several shots from his rifle, hoping to scare them away from him, his wife, his animals, and his home. As he shot, Mr. Kelly took care to aim well over the heads of the armed group of men.”
The group fled and Border Patrol and Santa Cruz County sheriff deputies responded to Kelly’s ranch. They walked through his property but found no remaining men and left.
Hours later, Kelly was checking on his horse when his dogs led him to the body of the Mexican national “lying face down in the grass” near a mesquite tree, Larkin wrote.
He called the Border Patrol ranch liaison again to report the body and cooperated with investigators, according to the lawyer.
Officials determined that the man was a “foreign national” who was not armed and had died from a single gunshot wound.
The septuagenarian “admitted to firing warning shots at the smugglers earlier in the day, but he denied firing any shot directly at any person” when interviewed by law enforcement, Larkin wrote.
“He does not believe that any of his warning shots could have possibly hit the person or caused the death,” she added. “All of the shooting that Mr. Kelly did on that date of the incident was in self-defense and justified.”
Larkin said officials have not determined the type of gun used to shoot the victim or his time of death.
Kelly is being held in Santa Cruz County Jail on $1 million bond. His next court date is scheduled for Feb. 22.