(NewsNation) — An Arizona rancher being held on a first-degree murder charge for the death of a Mexican citizen on his property says he only fired “warning shots” after an armed group pointed an AK-47 at him, according to his legal team.
George Alan Kelly, a 74-year-old rancher, acted in self-defense when he fired his rifle, Kelly’s court-appointed attorney Brenna Larkin said in court filings obtained by NewsNation.
According to the documents, Kelly heard a single gunshot from inside his ranch, then “saw a group of men moving through the trees around his home,” described in documents as being “armed with AK-47 rifles, dressed in khakis and camouflaged clothing and carrying large backpacks.”
“None of them were known to him. He had not given any of them permission to come onto his land,” Larkin wrote. Kelly’s ranch is in Kino Springs, an area just outside the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
“Mr. Kelly, fearing for his life and safety, fired several shots from his rifle, hoping to scare them away from him, his wife, his animals, and his home,” Larkin wrote. “As he shot, Mr. Kelly took care to aim well over the heads of the armed group of men.”
Larkin said Kelly called the U.S. Border Patrol ranch liaison, designated to help people living on borderlands, to report the incident and “summon immediate help,” per court filings.
Border Patrol officials say they received a call on Jan. 30 about a possible active shooter on Kelly’s property and reports of people running.
When officials arrived at the property, Kelly indicated to them that he had seen a group of armed men near his house, court documents say. Deputies also spoke with Kelly’s wife, who said she had seen armed men carrying large backpacks near the house, Larkin said.
According to the filing, Border Patrol agents and sheriff’s deputies searched Kelly’s property and used various cameras to locate the men, but found nothing.
The court document states it wasn’t until later that day that Kelly found “a body lying face down in the grass,” at which point he called law enforcement for a third time.
The man was later identified as 48-year-old Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea by a Mexican voter ID registration card he carried. Buitimea reportedly lived just south of the border in Nogales, Mexico, said NewsNation’s Ali Bradley.
Kelly is being held on a $1 million bond, but has asked for it to be reduced, saying his wife is alone on the ranch taking care of their livestock. His next court date is scheduled for Feb. 22.