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Arizona rancher’s defense expert rips $1M ‘political prosecution’ by ‘ethically bankrupt’ officials

Before prosecutors decide on Monday afternoon whether they’ll pursue a second trial against Arizona rancher George Alan Kelly, a criminologist consulting for the defense told Fox News Digital that the state has already spent upwards of $1 million in pursuit of this “political prosecution,” drawing from taxpayer dollars in the state’s poorest county in an area situated along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Dr. Ron Martinelli, a criminologist working pro bono for Kelly’s defense team, accused Santa Cruz County Attorney George Silva and Sheriff David Hathaway of “extreme confirmation bias” in their handling of the case, which centered on the death of Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea, a Mexican national found fatally shot on Jan. 30, 2023, after Kelly called Border Patrol for help from his 170-acre cattle ranch outside Nogales, Arizona. 

“The actors in this county and the county prosecutors and the sheriff in this county, and the investigators in this case stand out to me to be the most morally and ethically bankrupt people I’ve ever encountered in my 50-year career,” Martinelli told Fox News Digital last week. “It was singular in the way that they looked at this case and the way they handled this case.” 

Fox News Digital has reached out to Silva and Hathaway for comment.

“This was a political prosecution,” Martinelli added. “They had zero forensic evidence. They had tons of exculpatory information and evidence supporting Mr. Kelly’s innocence in this. Yet they continued to push forward and with their false narratives to convict this man. I would suggest, this is my opinion, that they used lawfare against him. I mean, they didn’t even have a motive that they were able to establish in this case.” 

Silva, Hathaway and Michael Jette, a contracted prosecutor, were all absent from court on April 22, when Arizona Superior Court Judge Thomas Fink declared a mistrial, Martinelli said. 

Jette had delivered the closing argument days earlier. Silva had opted to have Santa Cruz County Deputy Attorney Kimberly Hunley spearhead the state’s case during the month-long trial. 

ARIZONA RANCHER GEORGE ALAN KELLY DEFENSE SAYS ‘LONE HOLDOUT’ JUROR BLOCKED ACQUITTAL, STATE WEIGHS 2ND TRIAL

“Mr. Silva, who’s running for office, and also the sheriff, Mr. Hathaway, running for office. Who were the two people?” Martinelli said. “Who didn’t show up for the last day, the most important day of the trial? The two people that we believe are the moving forces [behind Kelly’s prosecution]. Why are these people that were pushing this case absent on the last day of trial?” 

George Alan Kelly enters court for his preliminary hearing in Nogales Justice Court in Nogales, Arizona, Feb. 22, 2023. (Mark Henle/The Arizona Republic via AP, Pool, File)

“If the county prosecutor, for God knows whatever reason, wants to bring this case back into trial, I will promise you… I will throw personally every single resource of Martinelli and Associates Justice and Forensic Consultant into this case. We held back. I won’t hold back any longer,” Martinelli added. “They can’t fix it. They can’t remediate their witnesses. They made serious errors of judgment. 

“And this trial, we believe, cost the citizens of Santa Cruz County over $1 million and thousands of man-hours in this case, and they can’t fix it,” he said. “Santa Cruz County is the most impoverished county in Arizona. The public – does the public want to pay for this to go again? And I guarantee you, it will end up, most likely with a full acquittal the next time around.” 

The jury remained deadlocked and therefore unable to reach a unanimous decision to convict Kelly of second-degree murder or any of the lower counts of manslaughter, negligent homicide or aggravated assault with a deadly weapon following more than 15 hours of deliberation. Fink scheduled a status hearing for 1:30 p.m. Monday, when the state is expected to reveal whether they want to reset the matter for a second trial. 

The defense said that seven jurors wanted to acquit Kelly, but one “lone holdout” was unwavering in wanting to convict the elderly rancher despite the evidence and testimony.

Martinelli pointed to prosecutors’ “false narrative” during the trial that Cuen-Buitimea was an “unarmed migrant pursuing the American Dream.” The defense claimed that prosecutors failed to prove through forensics, ballistics or otherwise that Cuen-Buitimea was shot by Kelly’s gun, maintaining that the rancher only fired warning shots into the air from his patio earlier that day. The fatal bullet was never recovered from the scene. 

Kelly’s wife, Wanda Kelly, testified about dialing their Border Patrol ranch liaison upon spotting two armed men dressed in camouflage and carrying rifles and backpacks walking about 100 feet from their home. Law enforcement responded to the property, and hours passed before Kelly called Border Patrol again to report finding the body about 115 yards from the ranching couple’s residence. 

Kelly listens during closing arguments

George Alan Kelly listens to closing arguments in Santa Cruz County Superior Court, April 18, 2024, in Nogales, Arizona. (Angela Gervasi/Nogales International, via AP, Pool)

Martinelli also excoriated Hathaway’s testimony about having crossed the border to Mexico weeks after the shooting on Kelly’s ranch to interview Daniel Ramirez, a Honduran man who prosecutors claim was the sole sight witness to Cuen-Buitimea’s death. Defense attorneys said, based on Ramirez’s own testimony, he was not there. 

JUDGE DECLARES MISTRIAL IN CASE OF ARIZONA RANCHER CHARGED WITH MURDER OF MEXICAN NATIONAL ON BORDER PROPERTY

Ramirez testified that he formerly ran drugs across the border, though not on the day of the shooting, and had been deported several times. 

Hathaway, who only recorded about six minutes of a 40-minute interview with Ramirez, was pressed about a conduit who arranged the meeting in Mexico named Juan Carlos Rodriguez. According to Martinelli, prosecutors also offered no evidence contrary to the defense theory that a rip crew, a gang of bandits, sometimes cartel affiliated, could have shot Cuen-Buitimea and robbed him. 

Martinelli told Fox News Digital that the county attorney’s office was forced to reveal to the defense team that Rodriguez is a twice convicted felon – the first for aggravated assault and domestic violence after strangling his girlfriend, and then he served another two years in prison “for the transportation of weapons into the United States.” 

“There was definite cartel influence throughout this case that continually was obstructed by the county prosecutors,” Martinelli told Fox News Digital. “There is a war going on across the American border. This is a different type of dynamic, where the people are actually being personally impacted. These ranchers, across this border, with the trespassing, you know, armed drug cartel and human trafficking.”

“Just imagine being on an isolated ranch in your 70s. You and your wife. And you are frequently seeing armed incursions on your ranch,” he added. “It’s a war. We try to fight this war in an ethical, moral and legal way of doing it. But we can’t be obstructed by a degraded criminal justice and law enforcement system. We can’t allow that to happen in the United States of America. We want to be a free country.” 

Arizona prosecutor delivers closing arguments in George Alan Kelly case

Prosecutor Michael Jette addresses jurors during closing arguments in Santa Cruz County Superior Court, April 18, 2024. (Angela Gervasi/Nogales International, via AP, Pool)

Martinelli also threatened to bring a complaint against Hathaway, who was pressed by the defense for having been featured in a YouTube video published about a month ago by real estate agent Sydney Wilburn, who goes by Big Super online, in which the sheriff gives a tour of his home and the borderland neighborhood where his family has resided since the 1800s. 

In the video, Hathaway references the Kelly case and asserts that the rancher wanted to “go hunt me some Mexicans.” The sheriff also compared Border Patrol and the sheriffs of surrounding counties to the “Gestapo,” adding that Border Patrol has committed “unmentionable atrocities that they’ve never been prosecuted for.” 

“And at the same time that he criticizes the other law enforcement agencies for seeking out money and, quote, ‘sensationalizing crime at the border,’ he’s so hypocritical because he has applied and received grant money for Santa Cruz County to interdict drugs and human trafficking in his own county,” Martinelli said. “Whether or not the county prosecutor in this case decides to move forward with further prosecution against Mr. Kelly, I will personally, and I won’t be the only one – there are going to be a number of law enforcement sources that are going to write letters of complaint to the Arizona Commission of Peace Officer Standards and Training.” 

He also vowed complaints to the Department of Justice, Santa Cruz County grand jury and the Arizona Board of Corrections for alleged violations of Kelly’s civil rights while he was held for weeks last year on $1 million cash bond in connection to the later-downgraded first-degree premeditated murder charge.

GoFundMe booted Kelly’s defense fund from the platform before GiveSendGo, a Christian crowd-sourcing alternative, picked up fundraising for the elderly rancher. 

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“All of these agencies need to audit the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department, both their CID and their corrections division,” Martinelli said. “People in Santa Cruz County are afraid. Even though Sheriff David Hathaway and the prosecutor try to obstruct and preclude people from knowing that there were serious problems in Santa Cruz County on the border. There is absolute cartel influence in Santa Cruz County. The people know it, they’re scared of it. And now they’re really concerned about the people, like the sheriff and the county prosecutor, that they voted into office to protect them, and they’re not protecting them.” 

Martinelli added that the Kellys have used up about $2 million in personal funding and funding from their legal defense fund on GiveSendGo, asking for additional donations and “prayers” for the couple.

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