- Associated Press - Monday, February 14, 2011

TUCSON, Ariz. — The leader of an anti-illegal-immigrant group was convicted Monday in an Arizona home invasion that left a 9-year-old girl and her father dead in what prosecutors called an attempt to steal drug money to fund border operations.

A Tucson jury found Shawna Forde, 42, guilty of the May 2009 killings of Raul Flores, 29, and his daughter Brisenia at their home in Arivaca, a desert community 10 miles north of the Mexican border.

The jurors deliberated for seven hours over two days, the Arizona Daily Star reported. The jury will return to Pima County Superior Court on Tuesday to decide if the death penalty should be considered.

Forde pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and other charges stemming from the home invasion.

Her attorney, Eric Larsen, argued that Forde was never inside the home. Prosecutors disputed that contention, saying Forde was the ringleader if the operation.

Mr. Larsen said Forde talked a big game, but “she frankly just didn’t have the wherewithal to do this.”

Prosecutor Rick Unklesbay told jurors the law is clear.

“She didn’t put a gun to Brisenia’s head … but she was the one in charge,” he said. “Because of that, you must hold her accountable.”

Forde is the leader of the Minutemen American Defense, a small border-watch group. Prosecutors argued that she planned the attack to help fund its anti-immigrant operations.

Forde and two men dressed as law enforcement officers forced their way into the Floreses’ home and then shot Flores, his daughter and his wife, Gina Gonzalez, who survived her injuries after getting into a gunbattle with the attackers, authorities said.

Flores was believed to be involved with drug trafficking, police said, but officers don’t think the assailants found much cash or drugs in the home.

A 911 recording released by the Pima County Sheriff’s Office in 2009 captured Ms. Gonzalez pleading for help after her husband and daughter were shot. She was heard crying out in pain from a gunshot wound and then becoming frantic as the attackers returned.

The sound of nine gunshots was heard as Ms. Gonzalez engaged the intruders. “Oh my God, I can’t believe they killed my family,” Ms. Gonzalez said on the recording.

Police say Ms. Gonzalez shot and wounded one of her attackers, Jason Eugene Bush, who officers believe was the gunman.

Another man, Albert Robert Gaxiola, is accused of providing information about the area. Mr. Bush and Mr. Gaxiola go on trial in the spring.

Before coming to Arizona, Forde lived in Everett, Wash., where she ran for the city council in 2007, promising to allow police to check the immigration status of suspects, according to news accounts.

Chris Simcox, founder of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, previously told the Associated Press his group kicked Forde out in 2007 amid allegations of lying and pretending to be a senior leader. Forde began her own group, bragging that it would be going after drug cartels, he said.

“We knew that Shawna Forde was not just an unsavory character but pretty unbalanced, as well,” Mr. Simcox said.

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