Arizona rancher George Alan Kelly – who is charged with murdering a Mexican migrant by shooting him dead on his land last month – was released from custody Thursday on a $1million surety bond secured by his ranch.
Family members for Kelly, 73, have been able to raise over $350,000 on GiveSendGo, a Christian alternative to GoFundMe after the mainstream crowdfunder took pages representing Kelly down.
Kelly was in custody on a single murder charge for shooting Gabriel Cuen-Butimea, on January 30.
He told police and border patrol agents that he fired warning shots when he saw Cuen-Butimea and at least eight other Mexican men running through his land.
The 73-year-old says he believed they were drug runners, and wanted to scare them away, but took care not to shoot at them directly.
George Alan Kelly, 73, says he was defending his land in Arizona when a group of up to 10 Mexican migrants ran through it on January 30, firing shots and carrying backpacks and radios
In court Wednesday, a judge agreed to convert Kelly’s $1million cash bond to a surety bond, which will allow him to use his 170-acre ranch to get out after nearly a month in custody.
He will be backed to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars thanks to GiveSendGo, which first rose to prominence when it allowed people to help the Canadian trucker protest.
Much like that case, Kelly’s is one where GoFundMe has not allowed fundraisers for the 73-year-old on the platform.
‘GoFundMe’s Terms of Service explicitly prohibit campaigns that raise money to cover the legal defense of anyone formally charged with an alleged violent crime. Consistent with this long-standing policy, any fundraising campaigns for the legal defense of someone charged with murder are removed from our platform,’ a spokesperson told Fox News.
‘Donors who contributed to the fundraising campaigns for George Alan Kelly’s legal expenses have been fully refunded.’
GiveSendGo co-founder Heather Wilson told Fox that this was exactly why her platform exists.
‘To allow people to have a voice and gain support in times of need. At this time [we] do not know any more than what is being shared on the news, but we do know that in our country a legal defense is not just for the wealthy,’ she said.
‘We will continue to allow the raising of funds for legal defense on GiveSendGo, as the presumption of innocent until proven guilty is a bedrock to our Justice system.’
In court Wednesday, a judge agreed to convert Kelly’s $1million cash bond to a surety bond, which will allow him to use his 170-acre ranch to get out after nearly a month in custody
Kelly will be backed to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars thanks to GiveSendGo, which first rose to prominence when it allowed people to help the Canadian trucker protest
Kelly called border patrol after the shooting and the entire ranch was searched immediately but no bodies were found. It was only hours later, when he was trying to find his horse, that he found the man’s body and called the authorities again to report the death.
Prosecutors however say Kelly – who has no criminal history and lives alone with his wife Wanda – deliberately ‘hunted’ the men down with an AK-47, and that he later changed his story multiple times while speaking with police and border patrol.
They say he shot ‘innocent man’ Cuen-Butimea in the back as he ran ‘for his life’, and are resting their case largely on the witness statements of two other men who have come forward recently and claim they were there that day.
Those men claim they were all migrants trying to sneak into America but that when Kelly started shooting, they jumped back over his fence and ‘made it back to Mexico.’
He has also been charged with two counts of aggravated assault against ‘Daniel’ and ‘Ramon’ – the two migrants who have now come forward to assist the prosecution.
This photo provided by the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office in Nogales, Arizona shows rancher George Alan Kelly
George Alan Kelly, center, enters court for his preliminary hearing in Nogales Justice Court
An additional GiveSendGo page has raised over $50,000
Prosecutors today said Kelly shot an ‘innocent man in the back as he fled for his life.’
In a filing, they said the migrants posed ‘no threat to him or his family.’
‘This type of unprovoked attack presents a significant danger to the victims and community,’ Deputy County Attorney Kimberly Hunley said in the filing.
Kelly’s attorney said the two men who have come forward have been afforded complete faith by the prosecution – whereas all of the rancher’s comments have been scrutinized.
She also pointed to the fact that these men have only now come forward as witnesses, nearly a month after the shooting, after the case gained national and international media attention.
‘There is a very large incentive structure for people to come forward – people can obtain immigration benefits for dong so. They can also succumb to pressure from traffickers, who have an interest in blaming this event on Mr. Kelly,’ she said.
‘Testimony is bought and sold by drug traffickers. It’s a commodity and it is used.
‘The benefit they are getting here is security for their smuggling route through his property, and they are sending a message to anyone else, that if you defend your property against us, you’ll be arrested and there will be witnesses.’
Kelly listens to prosecutors in court on Wednesday. His $1 million bond was converted from cash to security meaning he can use his home to secure release.
Kelly’s wife Wanda leaving court on Wednesday. He says he was only trying to protect her
Kelly’s 170-acre ranch is a stone’s throw from the border. He told police he was having lunch with his wife when he heard gunshots on January 30. He went to the porch with his gun, and says he fired warning shots while watching a group of men run through the trees
Kimberly Hunley, Chief Deputy County Attorney, called Kelly a danger to society in her brief
Kelly’s lawyer said that the case was ‘decided’ before it was even charged, and that he is being unfairly tarnished as a violent racist.
The body of Gabriel Cuen-Butimea was later found on the ranch land
‘There was no bullet. There were no witnesses. But the government jumps the gun and decides to charge premeditated, first degree murder,’ she said.
‘This lit a match over a very intense political powder keg and predictably there was an explosion.
‘This case has been highly publicized, highly politicized. People have already prejudged this case very loudly.
‘After this giant, political explosion happened, random witnesses start to come forward. They come forward very much after the fact – after the investigation is compromised by all of the publicity – essentially anyone can come forward.
‘The state doesn’t appear to have vetted any of these witnesses.
‘The state does not appear to scrutinize these witness statements the same way they’ve his there appears to be a double standard and confirmation bias.’
The prosecution, in their own filing, asked the judge to keep Kelly behind bars so that the witnesses – and the victim’s family – would feel safe attending court.