Mexico wants Arizona rancher’s murder charge upgraded after migrant shooting

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A Mexican official on Friday said the government wanted an Arizona rancher to face a more severe charge for allegedly killing a migrant who crossed onto his property. 

An Arizona judge last week said George Alan Kelly, 74, should face second-degree murder and aggravated assault charges in the death of Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea, who was killed at Kelly’s ranch just outside Nogales, Arizona. 

He initially faced a first-degree murder charge. 

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George Alan Kelly, 73, is accused of shooting a Mexican migrant on his property in January. Kelly said he fired warning shots and never fired directly at anyone. 

George Alan Kelly, 73, is accused of shooting a Mexican migrant on his property in January. Kelly said he fired warning shots and never fired directly at anyone.  (Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

Vanessa Calva, Mexico’s head of consular protection, told U.S. prosecutors that the Mexican government believes Kelly should face a first-degree murder charge. She said Cuen-Buitimea, 48, was unarmed, fleeing and was shot in the back.

Prosecutors allege Kelly opened fire with an AK-47 rifle on about eight unarmed migrants he encountered on Jan. 30 on his ranch, striking Cuen-Buitimea as he tried to flee. Two migrants in the group later told authorities that Kelly shot at them as well, but they were not hit and escaped over a fence back into Mexico. 

Kelly’s lawyer, Brenna Larkin, said her client shot warning shots above the migrants and that he feared for the safety of himself, his wife and his property. He said he had seen people with AK-47 rifles and backpacks passing through the property. 

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George Alan Kelly, 73, is charged with second-degree murder for allegedly shooting a migrant on his ranch just north of the border.

George Alan Kelly, 73, is charged with second-degree murder for allegedly shooting a migrant on his ranch just north of the border. (Santa Cruz County Clerk of the Court )

U.S. court records show Cuen-Buitimea was convicted of illegal entry and deported back to Mexico several times, most recently in 2016, according to The Associated Press. 

Kelly is free on $1 million bond. 

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The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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