Shawna Forde used to tell her friends in the Minutemen movement that she would one day be martyred for a noble cause.
On Monday, an Arizona jury convicted the former Everett woman of killing two people, including 9-year-old Brisenia Flores. It was all part of a bizarre plot to fight crime on the border with Mexico by staging a deadly home invasion on U.S. soil, prosecutors said.
A jury in Tucson now must decide whether Forde, 43, should face the death penalty for the Arivaca, Ariz., crimes. That portion of her trial gets under way Tuesday.
Forde was smiling when she entered a Pima County, Ariz., courtroom on Monday morning. She “exuded confidence,” and didn’t seem phased by the jury’s decision, said Dave Neiwert, a Seattle journalist and author who was present when the verdicts were announced.
“It seemed to me that she expected it, but her attitude seems to be that she is going to beat this, maybe on appeal or something,” he said.
The Green Valley News and Sun reported that Forde was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder as well as one count of attempted first-degree murder; one count of first-degree burglary; one count of aggravated assault; one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon; one count of armed robbery; and one count of aggravated armed robbery
Jurors had deliberated for about five hours Friday before taking their weekend break. They were behind closed doors for about two hours on Monday morning before announcing their verdicts.
Forde’s trial attracted national attention, in part because of her well-documented, lengthy and, at times, stormy relationships with others in the Minutemen movement. Forde began making headlines, however, in 2009, when she claimed to have been targeted for a series of violent incidents in Everett. She offered a wild explanation — since discounted by police — that she was the victim of drug cartel retribution for her Minutemen activism in Arizona.
Forde on Monday was convicted of leading a May 30, 2009, raid on the home of Raul Flores and Gina Gonzalez in the isolated hamlet of Arivaca, a few miles north of the border with Mexico.
Arizona prosecutors said evidence showed Forde was the squat, then-blonde woman who barked orders at the robbery crew as they searched the Flores home for money and drugs.
At her trial, jurors heard from two Minutemen from Colorado and one of Forde’s sisters about Forde’s plans to rob suspected drug dealers to bankroll her Minutemen American Defense border-watch group. The Minutemen said they tried to get help to stop Forde before she acted on her plan. She also talked about launching a paramilitary business that would provide mercenary services outside the U.S.
The Flores’ home didn’t prove to be the rich trove of contraband that Forde anticipated. The bandits apparently left with little more than some costume jewelry belonging to Gonzalez. Forde still had the swag when she was arrested nearly two weeks later, jurors were told.
The robbers left behind blood and death.
Flores, 29, was killed first. He was shot multiple times at close range. Then Gonzalez was hit, followed by Brisenia. Gonzalez initially feigned death, but when the robbers went outside, she managed to get to one of her husband’s handguns and also placed a call to 911. She was on the phone with emergency dispatchers when the bandits came back inside. She drove them away in a fire fight.
“Oh my God, I can’t believe they killed my family,” Gonzalez told the 911 dispatcher that night.
Jurors heard a tape of that call at Forde’s trial.
Gonzalez testified about the gun battle and Brisenia’s final moments. The girl was begging for her life when she was shot in the face. The gun’s barrel was so close it touched her cheek.
Prosecutors say the gunman was Jason Eugene Bush, an ex-con with ties to white supremacists who also is charged with two 1997 killings in Eastern Washington. Gonzalez shot one of the bandits in the leg. Genetic tests on blood at the shooting scene was linked to Bush, jurors were told.
Gonzalez and her family greeted Monday’s verdicts with tears, Neiwert said.
Jurors appeared to be watching Forde closely. It will be up to them to decide whether Forde faces death or a sentence of life in prison without release.
Everett police have been following Forde’s trial, but on Monday detectives hadn’t had time to give much thought to what, if anything, they mean for cases here.
Police earlier had closed their investigation of Forde’s rape claim, citing lack of evidence.
They still are investigating the near-fatal shooting on Forde’s ex-husband, but that probe is inactive for lack of leads, Everett police Sgt. Robert Goetz said.
Court papers show that Shawna Forde has from the outset been suspected of somehow being involved in the attack. She left town refusing to be questioned closely by police.
Detectives here will wait to “assess where we are at on our ability to access Ms. Forde” now that she’s heading to prison, Goetz said.
Scott North, 425-339-3431, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Arizona killings are not the only violent incidents linked to Shawna Forde:
Dec. 22, 2008 — Forde’s ex-husband is repeatedly shot but survives an attack at his former Everett home. The gunman has never been identified.
Dec. 29,2008 — Forde claims to have been beaten and raped. She publicly blames drug cartels while telling police she thinks the attack may be linked to her convict son’s crimes. Police doubt Forde and closed the case for lack of evidence.
Jan. 15, 2009 — Forde turns up in an Everett alley, bleeding from gunshot wounds to her arm. No arrests have been made. Evidence suggests Forde may have somehow staged the incident.
May 30, 2009 — Arivaca, Ariz. home invasion Forde now has convicted of leading.
June 8, 2009 — Forde travels to northern California, where friends of her mother are robbed of $12,000 by a gunman they insist is Jason Bush. No charges have been filed.