/ Modified apr 8, 2024 3:50 p.m.

The trial of an Arizona border rancher charged with killing a migrant has reached the halfway point

The judge denied a request by news media to accompany jurors on the visit to 75-year-old George Alan Kelly's ranch.

George Alan Kelly trial George Alan Kelly during opening statements, on March 22, 2024, at trial where he's being charged with second degree murder and aggravated assault.
Angela Gervasi / Nogales International

By Anita Snow, Associated Press

Jurors in the case of an Arizona rancher charged with fatally shooting a migrant on his property will be allowed to visit the ranch near the border with Mexico as early as this week as the trial enters its second half.

Judge Thomas Fink of the Santa Cruz County Superior Court said last week he would allow the visit but has not set a day and time. Fink denied on Monday a request by news media to accompany jurors on the visit to 75-year-old George Alan Kelly's ranch.

The judge has said the visit would help jurors in the “fair determination of the allegations in this case," but maintained on Monday that his restrictions on questioning jurors and capturing images of them would make it too difficult to allow news media to go.

Such visits are relatively uncommon.

In 2018, federal jurors in the trial of a U.S. Border Patrol agent charged in the fatal shooting of a teen across the Mexican border also in the Nogales, Arizona, area were taken to the scene of the shooting after dark to observe conditions as they may have been at the time. Former agent Lonnie Schwartz was acquitted in the killing of 16-year-old Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez when jurors failed to reach a verdict on a voluntary manslaughter charge.

The trial against Kelly so far has included testimony by his wife, Wanda, who said that on the day of the shooting, she saw two men armed with rifles and wearing backpacks pass their house on the ranch.

A Honduran man in a group of migrants on the ranch that day testified about seeing Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea, 48, fall to the ground after being struck. The bullet that killed Cuen-Buitimea was never found.

Kelly was arrested and charged last year in the Jan. 30, 2023, fatal shooting of Cuen-Buitimea, who lived in Nogales, Mexico, just south of the border.

Prosecutors have said Kelly, who was also armed with a handgun, recklessly fired an AK-47 rifle toward the migrants, who were about 100 yards (90 meters) away from him on his nearly 170-acre (69-hectare) cattle ranch. Kelly and his defense team reject that narrative.

The proceedings have been held four days a week since the trial began on March 22. It is expected to conclude by April 19.

Border security is a key issue in this year’s presidential contest, with Republican Donald Trump and Democratic President Joe Biden making dueling visits to the Texas-Mexico border in late February.

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