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Judge closes door to new trial for Arizona rancher in fatal shooting of Mexican man

NOGALES, Ariz. (AP) — An Arizona rancher not charged with shooting and killing a Mexican man on his property will not be retried, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Thomas Fink denied a request by prosecutors to keep the door open for a retrial in case new witnesses come forward.

Fink agreed with the lawyer for rancher George Alan Kelly, who said the case should be dismissed and cannot return to court because it ended in a mistrial April 22 after jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

In his latest ruling, Judge Fink said it would not be in the interest of justice to wait for prosecutors to gain a strategic advantage before retrying Kelly, saying it would amount to harassment of the defendant.

Fink noted that jurors will not be swayed by the prosecution's arguments during the trial, and that a new trial would likely result in another disagreement or even an acquittal.

“There was simply no evidence,” the judge wrote. “There is no reason to believe that a different jury would reach a different conclusion.”

Prosecutors did not immediately respond to an email message seeking comment on the judge's ruling.

After the trial, Deputy County Attorney Kimberly Hanley said prosecutors supported dismissal of the case but wanted to keep the option open to retrying it if circumstances changed. She said unknown witnesses could come forward or known witnesses in Mexico could testify.

Kelly, 75, had been on trial for about a month in the Mexican border city of Nogales for his role in the death of 48-year-old Gabriel Kuyen Buitimere, who was shot and killed on Jan. 30, 2023. Kelly was charged with second-degree murder.

Quen Buitimere, who lived just south of the border in Nogales, Mexico, was among the group of men Kelly encountered at the ranch that day.

Prosecutors argued that Kelly recklessly fired nine shots at the group from about 100 yards (90 meters) away, claiming that he had only fired warning shots into the air and not fired directly at anyone.

In his ruling, Judge Fink cited the testimony of a Honduran migrant who told jurors he was walking with Kuyen Buitimea that day. The judge wrote that the new witnesses' testimony contradicted the man's testimony that he was the only witness and raised other credibility issues.

Fink also wrote that because the bullet that killed Kueng Buitimea is missing, there is no reliable forensic evidence to prove who shot him.

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