04.06.11

Death Sentence for Arizona Child Killer

Suspected serial killer and alleged white supremacist Jason Bush is condemned for the murder of a Mexican-American girl and her father, as the jury rejects attempts to portray him as a head case. Terry Greene Sterling reports.

Jason Bush, a tall, skinny suspected serial killer with alleged white supremacist ties, was sentenced to death in Tucson for murdering a Mexican-American child and her father in an Arizona borderlands home invasion. Bush, 36, a drifter and ex-con with a history of mental troubles, has been associated with the Aryan Brotherhood, and authorities suspect him in two additional race-related killings, in 1997 in Washington state. In one of the Washington cases, a Mexican man was stabbed to death. In another, a white man thought to be a “race traitor” was executed on a hunting trip.

Bush now joins 43-year-old border vigilante Shawna Forde on Arizona’s death row for the 2009 killing of Brisenia Flores and her father, Raul. Forde is a former beautician and Boeing worker from Everett, Washington. She founded Minutemen American Defense several years ago, supposedly to keep America safe from “illegals.” This year, a Pima County Superior Court jury found her guilty of masterminding the deadly 2009 invasion of the Flores home in Arivaca, Arizona, in order to steal drugs and money to fund her vigilante activities. Forde called Jason Bush “Gunny” and she apparently believed his wild tales about being a star sniper in the Army.

The slayings of Brisenia and her father, both American citizens of Latino descent, were followed a year later by the mysterious shooting of Arizona rancher Robert Krentz, an Anglo. The rancher’s murder, still unsolved but widely blamed on a Mexican narco trafficker in the country illegally, sparked panic in Arizona and fueled the passage of Arizona’s notorious immigration law, SB 1070, which makes it a state crime for unauthorized immigrants to set foot on Arizona soil. (Parts of the law have been stayed in federal court.) Arizona’s Latinos have long said the Flores murders should have provoked more outrage but did not because the victims were Latinos.

Like the killers of the Clutter family, memorialized in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, the Arizona killers didn’t find the bounty they expected. The home invaders walked away from the Flores home empty-handed, except for a few cheap jewels, but they slaughtered the family anyway.

After the jury walked out, the suspected serial killer looked at his lawyer and appeared to say: “This sucks.”

While Forde barked orders, Bush, 36, was the tall triggerman in blackface. Wearing a bulletproof vest beneath his camouflage, Bush killed Raul Flores, gravely injured his wife, Gina Gonzalez, then put a gun up the nose of their 9-year-old daughter, Brisenia, who pleaded for her life. He shot her twice. Her terrified mother survived by playing dead, and called 911 after Bush and Forde left the trailer. When Bush re-entered the mobile home to kill Gonzalez, she shot him with her husband’s gun. Bush sustained a wound in the leg, and later boasted to friends that the bullet he pulled out of his vest was a “souvenir” from his secret mission.

“Gunny” Bush was nabbed a few days after the slaughter at his girlfriend’s house in northern Arizona. The girlfriend later testified that Bush seemed pleased with the outcome of what he described as a covert military foray and was ready to go out on another. In jail, though, Bush lost his military bravado. He confessed to the Flores killings. But later, in a desperate attempt to save himself from the death penalty, he pleaded not guilty to the killings.

Bush’s defense was weak. He had already confessed. Gina Gonzalez survived to be the prosecution’s star eyewitness. Authorities found Bush’s DNA at the crime scene and on the murder weapon. The crime was “indefensible,” said Bush’s attorney Richard Parrish, who opted not to dispute Gunny’s guilt, but to focus instead on trying to save him from death on a gurney.

In Arizona, the same jury that finds a killer guilty must then also decide whether to put the killer to death during the death-penalty phase of the trial. During this phase, prosecutor Rick Unklesbay painted Bush as a cold-blooded “manipulator” who “does what he wants for his own gains” and faked mental illness to get drugs and perks.

Parrish launched what amounted to an insanity defense, portraying his furrow-browed client as a full-blown paranoid schizophrenic with “military delusions.” Bush created fraudulent military certificates, photos, and a fake letter from President George Bush complimenting him on his supposedly covert missions in South America, psychologist Marc Walter testified, to maintain his paranoid delusion that he was a military hero.

Ellen Bower, Bush’s mother, testified that his mental problems surfaced in early childhood—he never grew out of his “terrible twos.” She temporarily severed parental rights when he was 11 so he could get psychological treatment she couldn’t afford. After authorities told Bower her son had been sexually abused by older boys, Bower resumed custody.

Bush cycled in and out of trouble. For instance, after he was “kicked off” a school bus for “misbehaving and pestering” other children, “he got on his motorbike, put a .410 shotgun on his back, and went after the school bus,” Bower said. Her son was always good with younger kids, Bower told the jury, and if he killed Brisenia Flores, then a “monster” she did not know lurked within him.

Bush smiled only once during the trial—at his mother. A psychologist testified Bush has been taking a heavy dose of numbing antipsychotic medication for months—the drugs were prescribed after Bush told jail officials the floor was moving beneath his feet and that barking dogs bothered him.

After the verdict, prosecutors, jurors and defense attorneys refused comment. Gina Gonzalez could not comment because she must testify at the upcoming June trial of the last alleged accomplice in the killings, Arivaca resident Albert Gaxiola. She appeared calm after the verdict, and quickly left the courtroom.

Dressed in a striped shirt, dark pants and second-hand black shoes with pink socks, Bush had pulled his shoulder-length black hair into a ponytail and rocked slightly in his seat as he waited for the verdict. When the jury came in, he rose and blinked when he heard the sentence. After the jury walked out, the suspected serial killer looked down at his lawyer and appeared to say: “This sucks.”

His appeal will be automatically filed.

Terry Greene Sterling is an award-winning Arizona-based journalist and author of ILLEGAL, Life and Death in Arizona's Immigration War Zone. Visit her on Facebook, or her website.