Kino Springs rancher George Alan Kelly was arraigned at Santa Cruz County Superior Court Monday afternoon on one charge of second-degree murder, along with two charges of aggravated assault.
Kelly, 74, was arrested in late January after leading authorities to a body on his ranch. The deceased man was later identified as Gabriel Cuen Buitimea, a Mexican citizen who’d apparently crossed into the United States.
After entering a not-guilty plea for Kelly on Monday, Superior Court Judge Thomas Fink set a jury trial to begin on Sept. 6.
Kelly, who spent more than three weeks in the county jail following his arrest, is out of custody as he awaits trial, having posted a $1 million surety bond.
Defense attorney Brenna Larkin requested a 60-day continuance, citing “forensic evidence” that would emerge in the case.
“We do have experts that we’ve engaged,” she said Monday.
For the time being, Fink denied the request, keeping the trial date at Sep. 6.
The previous Friday, Larkin had filed an additional motion, asking Fink to review Velasquez’s probable cause determination.
“Based on the evidence presented at the preliminary hearing, it is inconceivable that Mr. Kelly shot and killed (Cuen Buitimea),” the motion argues.
Larkin maintains that Kelly fired defensive warning shots “above” a group of armed men walking through his property, but that he couldn’t have hit Cuen Buitimea. Larkin has speculated that Cuen Buitimea was likely a victim of an organized criminal group, though she has offered no direct evidence to support the hypothesis.
Prosecutors, however, allege that Kelly caused Cuen Buitimea’s death.
“The state will submit that even based on the defendant’s statement that he went outside and shot in the direction of people, that he manifested extreme indifference to human life,” Chief Deputy County Attorney Kimberly Hunley said during Kelly’s Feb. 24 preliminary hearing.
So far, the defense and prosecution have accused the other side of presenting an inconsistent narrative. Larkin has questioned the credibility of two witnesses – Mexican citizens who say they crossed the border with Cuen Buitimea on the day of his death. And Hunley alleges Kelly’s story has changed several times since he first contacted law enforcement on the afternoon of Jan. 30.
Last Friday, representatives of the Mexican Consulate discussed the case in public for the first time, disclosing their contact with the victim’s family and describing Kelly’s self-published book about drug smuggling on the border as a potential factor in his alleged actions.
“There was no element of imminent danger,” said Consul General Marco Moreno Baez of Cuen Buitimea’s presence on Kelly’s ranch.
Sheriff’s deputies testified that Cuen Buitimea had been shot in the back, based on medical examiner’s reports.
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