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Arizona rancher George Alan Kelly’s wife testifies in murder trial, describes armed men near borderlands home

Arizona rancher George Alan Kelly's wife took the stand Wednesday, describing seeing two armed men in camo and with backpacks near their border ranch home.

Arizona rancher George Alan Kelly’s wife was called to testify on behalf of the prosecution on Wednesday, as the high-stakes murder trial with broad implications about the borderlands continues. 

Wanda Kelly, who has been married to the defendant for nearly 54 years, told the Santa Cruz County courtroom that she had spotted two men armed with rifles and carrying backpacks walking near the couple’s home on their 170-acre cattle ranch near Keno Springs outside Nogales, Ariz., on Jan. 30, 2023. 

Describing how her husband had gone out onto their patio with a rifle while on the phone with the Border Patrol, the woman recalled hearing several shots outside and fearing the worst. 


“When the shots stop, I just stand there. I’m afraid to look,” Mrs. Kelly said. “I walked to the left window. . . . I looked and he wasn’t lying on the ground, so I said, ‘Thank you, Lord.’” 

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Prosecutors argued that Mr. Kelly shot and killed an “unarmed migrant” identified as Mexican national Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea, but the defense has challenged whether forensics evidence and the autopsy report can definitively support that Buitimea was even killed by Kelly’s gun. Testimony revealed that the deadly bullet was never recovered from the scene where Buitimea’s body was found. 

Kelly’s defense has maintained that he spotted what he categorized as drug smugglers trespassing near the home he shares with his elderly wife and fired warning shots into the air.

Law enforcement testified how Kelly himself pleaded for the Border Patrol to respond that day, and deputies did arrive at the scene, searched the area and left. Kelly again called their Border Patrol ranch liaison later that evening when he went to check on his horse and instead found Buitimea’s body on his property. 

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The prosecution’s key witness, a Honduran man who claims to have been with Buitimea when he was shot, also admitted on the stand that he had carried drugs across the border in the past and had been deported several times before. The man said on the day of the shooting, though, he was not smuggling.

During the line of questioning by Santa Cruz County Chief Deputy Attorney Kimberly Hunley on Wednesday, Mrs. Kelly described “normal things” she did that day, including cleaning up breakfast, putting dishes in the washer and doing laundry – hours before Buitimea’s body was found on their ranch.

Earlier that afternoon, as Wanda Kelly recalled, her husband came inside to eat his lunch at their kitchen counter when suddenly Mr. Kelly exclaimed, “Be quiet,” and “I just heard a shot.” Mrs. Kelly testified that she had then looked out their living room window and saw two men, dressed in camouflage, walking parallel to their residence and “what stood out is that they had big brown backpacks on them, and they were carrying rifles.” 

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Hunley, using a marker board to jot down what Mrs. Kelly had stated on the stand, asked, “You never saw them point a gun at anyone or anything to that nature, correct?” Wanda answered, “Correct.” 

Asked about how far the two men were from their home, Mrs. Kelly admitted that she initially said “about the length of a football field” during her deposition but stated, “that’s incorrect, because I haven’t been on a football field in over 30 years.” After measuring the distance, she testified that she now knows that the two men had been only about 100 feet from their home when she saw them that day. 

Mrs. Kelly said she used her iPhone to call U.S. Border Patrol Ranch Liaison Jeremy Morsell, who testified earlier in the trial last week that he had answered several calls for help from Mr. Kelly as the day progressed. 

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“Alan said, ‘Call Border Patrol.’ So I had my phone in my hip pocket, I took it out, walked to the refrigerator where I have the Border Patrol’s number, dialed it in, started walking over to where Alan was, while the phone was dialing and ringing,” Mrs. Kelly testified Wednesday about the initial call. 

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Mrs. Kelly said she handed the phone to her husband inside near the patio door before he went outside carrying his rifle. She then said she stood in the living room, and although she could not see outside the windows from that vantage point, she heard gunshots that sounded “very close.”  

“Did you believe that was Alan’s gunshots?” Hunley asked. “Yes,” Mrs. Kelly responded, explaining that maybe she had heard five or six loud shots ring out, though counting exactly “was not a priority.” 

“I just stood there frozen,” she said. “I assumed they were Alan shooting up in the air . . . because that’s what he does when he knows that there are trespassers close. He shoots up into the air as a warning, ‘You’re close enough, go home.’” 

Kelly’s case ignited a powder keg last year when the rancher was initially charged with first-degree premeditated murder and was held for weeks under a $1 million cash bond. 

GoFundMe booted a fundraiser for his bail, but the Christian crowd-sourcing alternative GiveSendGo picked up the campaign, allowing Kelly to be released from custody while awaiting trial after a judge converted the bond from cash to surety. The most serious charge against Kelly was later downgraded to second-degree murder. 

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Earlier this year, Kelly rejected a deal offered by prosecutors that would have reduced the charge to one count of negligent homicide if he would agree to plead guilty. The defense has argued that the prosecution rushed to judgment in charging Kelly with first-degree murder without conducting a thorough investigation including forensics, ballistics, autopsy results, cell phone forensics, fingerprints and DNA. 

Kelly’s defense attorney, Brenna Larkin, told the courtroom then, “Testimony is something that is bought and sold by drug traffickers the same way that drugs and people are bought and sold.” 

The jury trial in Santa Cruz County Superior Court began on March 22 and is expected to last for up to a month until around April 19. Proceedings are happening four days a week, with Mondays off.

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