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Saturday, 19 February 2011

Forde must wait for life-or-death decision (USA)

Jurors who must decide whether Shawna Forde should become the third woman on Arizona's death row went home Friday without reaching a decision. They'll resume deliberations on Tuesday.

Forde, 43, was convicted Monday of first-degree murder in the May 30, 2009, deaths of Arivaca residents Raul Junior Flores, 29, and Brisenia Flores, 9, and of attempted first-degree murder in the shooting of Gina Gonzalez, Flores' wife and Brisenia's mother.

Prosecutors presented evidence the Floreses were shot by Jason Bush, 36, after he and Forde forced their way into the home, claiming to be law-enforcement officers looking for fugitives.

The prosecutors said Forde wanted to rob Flores to fund her border protection group, Minutemen American Defense.

Gonzalez testified that as she lay feigning death, she heard Brisenia plead for her life and the gunman shoot her twice at point-blank range.

On Friday, the attorneys argued why Forde should or should not be executed.

Defense attorney Jill Thorpe said Forde is a "broken person" and recounted testimony about the repeated acts of sexual and physical abuse and abandonment Forde suffered as a child.

Because of her childhood, Forde desperately needed to be loved and to feel important, Thorpe and co-counsel Eric Larsen said.

She married five men, became involved in the Minutemen organization and turned into a braggart who made outlandish claims, Thorpe said.

The abuse and a subsequent stroke led to a mental illness that left Forde unable to assess people like Bush and co-defendant Albert Gaxiola, to foresee the dangers ahead and to change course, Thorpe said.

Thorpe asked the jury to ask themselves, "Are we the type of society that says 'We're going to put you down because you are broken ... or are we the kind of society that says segregation is enough?' "

It's Forde's mental illness that prevents her from acknowledging her role and from apologizing, Thorpe said.

"She's not even facing what's going on here," Thorpe said.

Thorpe also asked the jury to look at Forde's moral culpability and compare it to Bush's.

Is Forde as culpable as you if you, "hearing the fear in a child's voice as she's begging you not to shoot her and you do it anyway?" Thorpe asked.

The death penalty should be reserved for the "worst of the worst," Larsen told jurors.

Imposing the death penalty might have an unintended consequence.

"Shawna is going to be a celebrity. She's going to be a martyr, she's going to revel in this," Thorpe said.

Deputy Pima County Attorney Rick Unklesbay said the Floreses would be alive if not for Forde.

Unklesbay, too, urged the jury to think about moral culpability, noting Forde did nothing to stop Bush from shooting any of the victims.

Forde stole Gonzalez's jewelry and then, upon learning Gonzalez was still alive, turned to Bush and yelled, "Hey! She's still alive! Get back in there and take care of her!" Unklesbay said.

Days after the slayings, she told an FBI informant they had more targets, Unklesbay said.

"That's the moral, reasoned response Shawna Forde had after Brisenia had two shots put in her head," Unklesbay said.

While Forde was probably abused to some degree, it's not enough to warrant leniency, Unklesbay said.

Forde must've realized her childhood was abnormal and she wanted something better for her two children, because they apparently weren't abused and still love her, Unklesbay said.

And yet, Forde plotted the Flores home invasion and slayings.

Child-abuse victims, "if they have an ounce of compassion in their soul, they just don't do that," Unklesbay said.

If jurors are unable to unanimously decide Forde deserves the death penalty, Judge John Leonardo will sentence Forde to life in prison with or without the possibility of release. Forde also faces prison time for attempted murder and various burglary, aggravated assault and robbery charges.

Bush is scheduled to go to trial March 15 and Gaxiola June 1.

They, too, face the death penalty.

 Arizona Daily Star