Minuteman Vigilante Shawna Forde Sentenced to Death

The anti-immigrantion activist was convicted last week of first-degree murder in the deaths of young Brisenia Flores and her father.

By Julianne Hing Feb 22, 2011

(Cross-posted from TAPPED.)

The anti-immigration activist who was convicted last week of first-degree murder for her involvement in the May 2009 murders of nine-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father Raul, has been sentenced with the death penalty.

CNN reports that the jury’s unanimous decision is binding:

If the jury had not voted for the death penalty, the judge would have decided whether Shawna Forde should have received life with a chance of parole after 35 years or life with no possibility of parole.

Forde was convicted February 14 on eight counts, including two counts of murder for the shooting deaths of Raul Flores and his daughter, Brisenia, and the attempted murder of the child’s mother, Gina Gonzales.

On May 20, 2009, Forde and two alleged accomplices stormed the Flores’ home in Arivaca, Arizona. Two men killed Raul Flores Jr. and shot his wife and Brisenia’s mother Gina Gonzalez before shooting the 9-year-old girl point-blank. Gonzalez testified during the trial that she could hear her daughter, roused from her sleep in the living room where she was camped out so she could be close to the family’s new dog, ask why her parents had been killed, then silence as the shooter stopped to reload a gun, and finally two shots that went through the little girl’s head.

Forde reportedly planned elaborate heists of suspected drug dealers as a way to fund her anti-immigrant activism and her splinter group, The Minuteman American Defense. Nothing besides pot residue was found in the Flores home, according to Terry Greene Sterling. MAD was inspired by the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, and both groups recruited civilians to patrol the border for migrants attempting to enter the country. Forde was found with Gonzalez’s wedding ring.

During the trial and sentencing phase, Forde’s defense was very disciplined about crafting a portrait of an unstable woman, a big talker with little follow-through. The prosecution argued she could have been both a braggart and a murderer. After Forde was convicted, she reportedly called a press conference. Forde’s defense asked psychologist Dr. Judith Becker how Forde’s actions, including the fact that she called for a press conference, should be interpreted.

"That does not surprise me," Becker testified, the Green Valley News and Sun reported. "It shows poor judgment."

Such information is crucial for shaping a jury’s understanding of a person’s health and frame of mind. It’s also a useful way to help anti-immigrant groups like Federation for American Immigration Reform, which have since tried to distance themselves from Forde, further disassociate themselves from one of their former members. Anti-immigrant groups may not want anything to do with Forde these days, but she certainly thought of herself as one of them.

Much of the chatter on the lefty blogs and immigrant rights networks in the weeks of the trial has been dominated by bitter confusion about the lack of media coverage the case got. As Gabe wrote last week, the tragic deaths of two 9-year-old Arizona girls received very different public responses. It may be that the country is not interested in the scary lessons that Brisenia Flores’ murder offers about the real life consequences of the national discourse surrounding immigrants.