/ Modified feb 13, 2023 6:58 p.m.

Arizona rancher denies killing Mexican shot dead by border

Lawyer for the defendant says he did shoot at armed smugglers earlier in the day.

360 cochise douglas border fence File image of border fencing in Cochise County, Arizona.
AZPM Staff

The lawyer for an Arizona rancher being held on $1 million bond says her client did not shoot and kill the Mexican man whose body was found on his property last month near the U.S.-Mexico border, but earlier that day fired warning shots at smugglers carrying AK-47 rifles and big backpacks on his land.

A defense request made last week in Santa Cruz County Justice Court asks that the $1 million bond set in the first-degree murder case against George Alan Kelly be lowered or lifted. Kelly, 73, on Monday remained in custody at the Santa Cruz County Jail in the Jan. 30 killing.

A preliminary hearing in the case is set for Monday, Feb. 20.

Attorney Brenna Larkin, who was appointed by the court to represent Kelly, said in her request that her client “admitted to firing warning shots at the smugglers earlier in the day, but denied firing any shot at any person.

“He does not believe that any of his warning shots could have possibly hit the person or caused the death," she continued. “All the shooting that Mr. Kelly did on the date of the incident was in self-defense and justified.”

Kelly's ranch is located just outside Nogales, Arizona, city limits in the Kino Springs area.

The victim, Gabriel Cuen-Butimea, lived just south of the border in Nogales, Mexico. U.S. court records show Cuen-Butimea was convicted of illegal entry and deported back to Mexico several times, most recently in 2016.

The Mexican consulate in Nogales has not returned several calls seeking additional information about Cuen-Butimea.

Kelly apparently drew on his borderlands ranching life in the self-published novel “Far Beyond the Border Fence,” which is described on Amazon.com as a “contemporary novel which brings the Mexican Border/Drug conflict into the 21st century.”

Authored by a man with the same name, the 57-page novel focuses on George and his wife, Wanda. George Alan Kelly's wife is also named Wanda.

“Several times each week illegal immigrants would cross the VMR ranch,” reads one part. “They were led by armed human smugglers called Coyotes. George and his foreman had to patrol the ranch daily, armed with AK-47's.”

By posting comments, you agree to our
AZPM encourages comments, but comments that contain profanity, unrelated information, threats, libel, defamatory statements, obscenities, pornography or that violate the law are not allowed. Comments that promote commercial products or services are not allowed. Comments in violation of this policy will be removed. Continued posting of comments that violate this policy will result in the commenter being banned from the site.

By submitting your comments, you hereby give AZPM the right to post your comments and potentially use them in any other form of media operated by this institution.
AZPM is a service of the University of Arizona and our broadcast stations are licensed to the Arizona Board of Regents who hold the trademarks for Arizona Public Media and AZPM. We respectfully acknowledge the University of Arizona is on the land and territories of Indigenous peoples.
The University of Arizona