Shawna Forde



Jose Cardenas: Thank you for joining us. I'm Jose Cardenas. An Arizona jury sentences an Arizona Minutemen leader to death. Shawna Forde was found guilty this month for the May 2009 murder of 9-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father Raul. Forde was convicted of first degree murder and other changes in a home invasion in southern Arizona. Prosecutors say she planned to break in to fund her anti-immigration operation. She becomes the third woman on Arizona's death row. Here to update us on courtroom details of the case again is Terry Greene Sterling, who covered the trial from the beginning for "The Daily Beast." Welcome back. You were here just a few weeks ago talking about the trial. It was nearing its end, but it wasn't over. You predicted that if Shawna Forde was found guilty we'd spend a reasonable amount of time at a sentencing hearing, and she was found guilty and the hearing took place just this last week. Tell us about the different phases. I know it began with the prosecution establishing why Shawna Forde was eligible for the death penalty.

Terry Greene Sterling: The first thing that happened was the jury had to rule on whether -- had to issue a verdict on whether Shawna Forde was guilty of murder. Once Shawna Forde was found guilty of killing Brisenia Flores and her dad Raul, then the trial moved into another phase in which the jury had to decide whether the crimes were heinous enough to warrant the death penalty. And the jury decided that the crimes were terrible enough to warrant putting someone to death. So then the trial entered its third phase in which the defense tried to show mitigating circumstances, circumstances that would persuade the jury to spare Shawna Forde's life. But it didn't work.

Jose Cardenas: What was their focus? What did they present to the jury to try and get them to decide that Shawna Forde's life should be spared?

Terry Greene Sterling: For three days the defense put on evidence, testimony from relatives, investigators, and introduced a series of records that indicated that Shawna Forde as a baby was given away by her mother in what would become a childhood of abandonment, sexual abuse, and neglect. She was ultimately adopted out after living in many, many homes, and according to testimony at the trial, her adopted father repeatedly sexually abused her.

Jose Cardenas: Where did that testimony come from?

Terry Greene Sterling: That testimony came from the investigator for the defense. The father, the adopted father is no longer alive, according to testimony. So following that, Shawna Forde according to testimony and document and so on, from the defense, began acting out. And engaged in child prostitution, running away, she was put in different homes for troubled youth run by the state, and ultimately according to this testimony, her adopted parents returned her to the state. She then led a life that appeared to be very troubled. She had five marriages, she lost a child, she lost one of her children, one of her children died, she had two other children who grew into adulthood. She worked at Boeing as an electrician for a while, she worked at -- she worked as a beautician at different hair salons in the Washington area, and then she became intrigued with the Minutemen movement, and began traveling back and forth from Washington to Arizona.

Jose Cardenas: Was there psychiatric evidence presented as well?

Terry Greene Sterling: There was psychiatric evidence. Two psychiatrists testified that the trauma that Shawna Forde endured as a child caused her to have various personality disorders, caused her to have -- to be grandiose and a braggart and have narcissistic tendencies, but none of this was enough to persuade the jury to spare her.

Jose Cardenas: And did the jury seem to agonize over this decision?

Terry Greene Sterling: Well, I -- none -- no members of the jury would talk about their deliberations. But it appeared to me that as the jury left the courtroom finally, after meeting with the mother of Brisenia Flores, and the wife of the other murder victim, Raul Flores, it appeared to me that the jury had been crying, and they didn't want to talk. They took this very, very seriously. At least that's what their faces looked like.

Jose Cardenas: And you did talk to one of the jurors.

Terry Greene Sterling: I talked to one juror, and she wouldn't talk about deliberations, but she told me that what haunts her, and what she sees every day is the autopsy photograph of Brisenia Flores with half her face shot off.

Jose Cardenas: And as I understand it, the mother testified in this prosecution's part of the sentencing hearing, and her testimony was very powerful.

Terry Greene Sterling: Yes. Well, the mother as you recall, survived the killing spree by playing dead on the floor, and she was helpless to save her husband and her daughter, who were both murdered. And she heard them both dying. So her life is virtually been decimated, and she sat at the table in the courtroom with photographs of her little girl, and photographs of her husband and family pictures. And she -- there wasn't -- it looked as if there wasn't a dry eye in the jury as she talked about what she went through, and how her life had been changed forever.

Jose Cardenas: Now, Shawna Forde did not testify.

Terry Greene Sterling: She did not.

Jose Cardenas: But she did talk to you.

Terry Greene Sterling: She talked to me briefly in the only jail house interview with a reporter, and I noticed with Shawna Forde there seemed to be -- she seemed to have two affects. One, she would sort of laugh and smile, and the other one is that she would be completely flat and emotionless. She laughed and smiled and talked to her attorneys now and again, but during the trial she was completely flat. When I talked to her in the jail house interview, she had both of those affects, and she mostly wanted to tell me about this huge Minutemen operation that she ran from the jail.

Jose Cardenas: And did she talk about huge numbers of people who were involved in her organization?

Terry Greene Sterling: Yes. She told me that the Minutemen organization, that she ran from the jail, had 13,000, I believe, to 15,000 people.

Jose Cardenas: Which is consistent with the psychiatric testimony about delusional visions, behavior, anyway.

Terry Greene Sterling: Consistent with the narcissistic tendencies and the grandiosities, a protective mechanism.

Jose Cardenas: She denies being involved. And we should mention that she was not the person who pulled the trigger, it was a codefendant.

Terry Greene Sterling: Shawna Forde was not -- did not pull the trigger, but she was alleged to have masterminded the entire crime. Which in Arizona warrants the death penalty. Two other alleged accomplices faced trials later on.

Jose Cardenas: So there will be more to come from you I'm sure.

Terry Greene Sterling: More to come.

Jose Cardenas: We'll have you back on the show. Thank you so much for joining us.

Terry Greene Sterling: Thank you very much.

An Arizona jury decides border activist Shawna Forde will be put to death for the deaths of 9-year old Brisenia Flores and her father Raul Flores. Forde was convicted on two counts of first degree murder and other charges in the 2009 home invasion.
Terry Greene Sterling, reporter for The Daily Beast, gives an update on the case.

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