Nogales, AZ – The 74-year-old southern Arizona rancher accused of fatally shooting an illegal immigrant who snuck across the U.S.-Mexico border and onto his property was released on $1 million bond.
George Allen Kelly was originally charged with first-degree murder in the Jan. 30 shooting death of 48-year-old Mexican national Gabriel Cuen-Butimea, FOX News reported.
The charge has since been downgraded to one count of second-degree murder, Santa Cruz County Justice Court Judge Emilio Velasquez announced on Feb. 24, according to the news outlet.
Cuen-Butimea had already been convicted of entering the U.S. illegally multiple times and had repeatedly been deported when he and a group of approximately seven other individuals illegally crossed the international border yet again on Jan. 30, FOX News reported.
The group was trespassing on Kelly’s land when they were confronted by the elderly rancher.
Kelly’s attorney, Brenna Larkin, said her client spotted smugglers armed with AK-47s and carrying backpacks trudging across his property, and that he fired multiple warning shots above their heads, FOX News reported.
Larkin said Cuen-Butimea was not hit by her client’s gunfire.
But prosecutors alleged Kelly fatally shot the trespasser in the back while he was trying to flee, FOX News reported.
Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office (SCCSO) deputies found Cuen-Butimea’s body about 100 to 150 yards from Kelly’s home, according to The Arizona Republic.
Two other illegal immigrants who claimed to have been in the group later told investigators Kelly also shot at them, but that they were able to cross a fence back into Mexico and avoided injury, FOX News reported.
The two witnesses – who potentially stand to receive immigration benefits since they came forward – have agreed to testify against Kelly.
They complained they “felt like they were being hunted” by the elderly farmer during the incident, prosecutors said.
Kelly was hit with two counts of aggravated assault after the new witnesses came forward, FOX News reported.
Larkin pointed out to the court that there is a “very large incentive structure for people to come forward and to have claimed to have been witnesses” in this case, to include the expectation of immigration benefits, FOX News reported.
She said traffickers also “have an interest in blaming this event” on her client and could “pressure” people to step forward as alleged witnesses.
Kelly put up is ranch to post his $1 million bond and was released from jail on Feb. 22, the New York Post reported.
GoFundMe shut down all fundraising campaigns on its platform that were established to help pay for the longtime rancher’s legal fees, citing its policies not to assist in the defense of people who have been charged with violent crimes, according to the news outlet.
But generous donors have kicked in more than $415,000 to support Kelly’s fundraisers on GiveSendGo, a Christian fundraising platform.