An Arizona rancher accused of shooting and killing an illegal immigrant on his property in January has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.
George Alan Kelly, 74, was arrested after a Mexican national was found dead on his property near the U.S.-Mexico border. He is free on a $1 million bond.
The Associated Press reported that Kelly pleaded not guilty on Tuesday in the shooting death of 48-year-old Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea. Kelly also pleaded not guilty to aggravated assault.
According to the AP, Kelly responded to questions from Judge Thomas Fink of the Santa Cruz Superior Court with only yes or no answers. Fink set the trial date for Sept. 6.
Kelly was originally charged with first-degree murder, but the charge was downgraded on Feb. 24.
The rancher has maintained his innocence since his arrest.
Through his attorney, Brenna Larkin, Kelly has said in court documents that he discharged a rifle on the day Cuen-Buitimea died, but only after a group of armed men threatened him with weapons.
He said he fired “warning shots” over the men after an AK-47 rifle was pointed directly at him. Larkin said Kelly was in fear for his safety and that of his wife.
Prior to his run-in with the armed men, and before Cuen-Buitimea’s body was discovered, Kelly said he heard a single gunshot but did not know where it came from.
Larkin later stated in a court filing that encroachments on Kelly’s land by people who had illegally crossed the border were common leading up to Cuen-Buitimea’s death.
The day Cuen-Buitimea was found dead in one of Kelly’s pastures, the rancher had been in contact with the U.S. Border Patrol numerous times.
One of Kelly’s neighbors later said he had called Border Patrol up to 40 times in the month of January alone. He said agents were so accustomed to visiting the property they had their own key to Kelly’s gate.
The ranch is located roughly a mile and a half from the country’s border with Mexico.
Illegal migrants have flooded across the border in the region in record numbers for more than two years.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.