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Thu, Sept. 19

State: Defense cost in border activist trials: $951K

TUCSON - The total cost to defend three border activists ultimately convicted of killing a southern Arizona man and his young daughter in a 2009 home invasion was more than $951,000, making it one of the costliest in Pima County's history.

The Arizona Daily Star reports that the only defendant to avoid death row accounted for 45 percent of the total expenses, and the six attorneys assigned to the cases received roughly $500,000.

Shawna Forde, Jason Bush and Albert Gaxiola all were all convicted of first-degree murder this year in the deaths of Raul Junior Flores, 29, and his 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia.

Separate juries sent Forde, 43, and Bush, 37 - both from Washington state - to death row, but a third jury opted for a life sentence for Gaxiola, 44.

Authorities said three people dressed as law enforcement officers forced their way into the victims' home in Arivaca, south of Tucson, at about 1 a.m. on May 30, 2009.

Prosecutors claimed Gaxiola, of Arivaca, wanted Raul Flores dead because he was a competitor in the drug trade.

Bush was identified as the gunman by Flores' wife, who survived the shooting.

Authorities said Bush was part of Minutemen American Defense founder Forde's plan to rob and kill drug smugglers to fund her organization.

The defendants were represented by taxpayer-paid attorneys who were required to seek approval from the county's Office of Court Appointed Counsel for their expenditures.

The attorneys warned at the outset the case could be one of the costliest in county history given the state's pursuit of the death penalty, the facts of the case and the defendants' backgrounds.

According to records obtained by the Star, Gaxiola's defense team spent about $426,000, Forde's team spent around $296,000 and Bush's attorneys $229,000.

Veteran defense attorney Laura Udall scoffs at any suggestion Gaxiola escaped the death penalty because his attorneys spent significantly more money than Forde's and Bush's attorneys.

"Money does not make the case outcome better," she said. "It is first and foremost the facts that you have and then the information that you can glean from those facts. It is knowing what expert witnesses to get and hard work by the mitigation team and all the lawyers involved. It is never giving up."

Forde's lead defense attorney, Eric Larsen, also suggested it was the differences in the defendants - not money spent - that affected the outcomes.

"I can say that there were three different juries chosen for three different cases, and that explains the different results," Larsen said. "Forde was a different trial than Bush and both were different from Gaxiola."

The lead attorneys were paid $100 an hour and their co-counsel was paid $75 an hour. Each of the defense teams also hired investigators, paralegals, DNA and mental health experts, and mitigation specialists who gather evidence about first-degree-murder defendants that may influence a jury not to sentence them to death.

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