As the judge laid down the sentence for convicted killer, Gary Thomas Kelley, you could hear the frustration in her voice and it even seemed like she was choking back a couple of tears. Judge Susan Brnovich is not a newcomer to the Superior Court of the State of Arizona. She previously served as a Commissioner and was subsequently appointed to the position of Judge by Governor Janet Napolitano. She entered handling domestic battles and now handles murder cases.
For Brnovich to be visibly upset by this case I feel displays the frustration she has with Arizona’s current climate. At the same time, I think that Brnovich, a Republican, thinks as a Republican would, and when Gary Thomas Kelley gave his final arguments, pleading for leniency prior to sentencing, he defiantly stated “I don’t hate Mexicans” as he pointed to the Varela family members sitting in the pews. Brnovich, prior to declaring the sentence stated “you’re justified in saying you’re not a racist, however you are a murderer.”
You see, that’s the problem with the conservative mindset. They will go out of their way to declare someone, not a racist, yet they will call them a murderer, without flinching.
However, Kelley is just that, a racist and a murderer. When Kelley approached Juan Varela on May 6, 2010, he had one thing in mind, and he articulated it loud and clear. “Go back to Mexico wetback”, Kelley said, followed by “you’re going to die today.” Varela’s 78 year old mother Paula stood by and watched as Kelley blurted profanity after profanity while he stood there unbeknownst to Varela, with a snub nose revolver hidden in his waistband.
Varela’s brother Antonio yelled at Kelley, told him to, “go home.” Kelley was interested in just one thing, murdering a wetback! According to Kelley himself and in accordance with the Defense’s opening statements witnessed by yous truly, Kelley had approached Varela aggressively, questioning whether or not Varela had been at an SB1070 rally. Varela a fifth generation American whose family lived in Texas and moved to Arizona over 40 years ago are representative of the well known phrase, “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.” Varela told Kelley to go away, but Kelley would have no such thing, Kelley continued with the threats and coaxed Varela out of his yard, where he pointed the loaded weapon an fired a single shot killing Juan Varela, a husband, brother, son, uncle and little league coach.
Varela was representative of America, a U.S. Citizen, who coached little league and drove his daughter to and from school daily. He tended to his garden as he sang Christian hymns in front of his South Phoenix home.
It was amazing to watch the Phoenix Police screw up the investigation in this racially motivated crime. According to the family, within fifteen minutes of the Phoenix Police arriving, Sgt. Tommy Thompson held a press conference and announced this matter to be a dispute between neighbors and nothing more. The family was furious at Thompson and the Phoenix Police Department who not only didn’t call it right from the beginning, according to the family, they did a shoddy job on the investigation, if you can call it an investigation.
The family was equally shocked to see Vice Mayor Michael Nowakowski and councilman Michael Johnson show up at the scene. According to Antonio Varela councilman Johnson claimed that he didn’t want this incident to be seen as a racial bias crime, but just a dispute between neighbors. The family felt this was part of a coverup to avoid further enraging the South Phoenix community that would at later date suffer the loss of one of it’s unarmed residents at the hands of an accused rogue cop Richard Chrisman that had been involved in a prior incident of planting evidence on a disabled African American woman.
Arizona has been a polarized state since the attack upon the Immigrant community commenced shortly after 911. Things gradually got worse and Arizona became the pitre dish for the rest of the nation. Laws targeting Immigrants and affecting the constitutional rights of people of Mexican descent or with similar characteristics were passed through Arizona’s Republican controlled legislature like pizzas coming out of a delivery joint.
Arizona’s governor Jan Brewer signed two crucial bills that were complicit in the Varela murder. Brewer signed SB1070 and a concealed weapon law that nixed any licensing to carry a gun concealed.
By signing those laws and with the help of the media, Arizonans like Kelley felt empowered to take the law into their own hands. Although neither law had actually gone into effect, Kelley, while downing beers and perhaps listening to conservative talk radio and observing images of Jan Brewer on Fox news stating that Arizona was under invasion, coupled with pictures of individuals trekking through the desert, was sufficient to push an unstable and angry Kelley to murder. After all, Kelley felt it was his duty to lash out at what he thought was a “wetback” that had somehow invaded his country.
To add insult to injury, Latino “leaders” refused to get behind the grieving family. Some “leaders” went so far as to denounce this case, later determined to be absolutely SB1070 related and charged as a hate crime.
Lydia Guzman the ex President of Somos America and current director of Respect/Respeto said this to Nicholas Riccardi of the L.A. Times.
Lydia Guzman, a prominent local immigrants-rights activist, said she and others organizing protests against SB 1070 were wary of the case. “This guy did not get shot because he was Mexican,” Guzman said
At a time when local Arizona “activists” and “leaders” could have rubbed this awful murder in Jan Brewer’s face for signing such a law, they instead backed off from what should have been put front and center as the first SB1070 related murder, to being complicit by negating it’s existence and refusing to talk about it publicly. After all it was, without a doubt SB1070 related. The validity of the claim that this atrocious murder was directly related to Arizona’s “show me your papers” law was later verified by the defendant’s own testimony from the witness stand.
After what seemed like an eternity for the grieving Varela family, and after being kicked around by local politicians, police chiefs, mayors, vice mayors, councilmen, and those who were supposedly on their side representing the best interest of the Latino community in Arizona, the Varela’s received partial justice in the form of a guilty verdict. Well sort of, but not before going through an initial trial that ended in a deadlocked jury, that was subsequently, declared a mistrial.
An all white jury was deadlocked nine in favor of conviction and three against, when according to family members quoting prosecutor Heather Wicht, one of the three seeking to dismiss charges against the murderer stated to another jury member, (Paraphrasing) “if I had a knife, I would cut you up.” Obviously the jury deliberations had reached a climatic and polarizing moment, very similar to the current conditions in the state of Arizona nowadays, where people fall on one side or the other of the SB1070 issue, and many are willing to go to the death to support their position. Apparently that was sufficient for Judge Brnovich to call it a mistrial, which of course resulted in starting the process all over again from jury selection to a brand new trial. Which meant family members were forced to relive their pain all over again on the stand while their loved one’s killer sat there shaking his head and making faces. After all, what’s the big deal? He was just a “wetback” according to Gary Thomas Kelley.
The second trial carried the same testimony with Kelley admitting he murdered Juan Varela and confirming that Varela did not possess any weapons. The jury deliberated for a very short three hours, coming back with a guilty verdict which included aggravating factors that unfortunately did not include the racial bias enhancement charge. I truly believe that this jury did what everyone else has irresponsibly done in this case. They have wanted to lessen the outrage of the community in an attempt to depolarize an already black and white state, replacing black with brown of course.
Gary Thomas Kelley was a U.S. Citizen just like Juan Varela. The difference is, one was a cold blooded killer who hated Mexicans and felt empowered by this state’s acceptance of overt racism billed as political differences by those who are reaping the benefits, whether it’s pundits on conservative talk radio, corrupt Republican politicians or the private prison industry.
On July 5, 2011 approximately 14 months after Kelley killed Varela he received a sentence of twenty seven and a half years. A slight sentence for what many consider a premeditated murder given the fact that Kelley came over, gun concealed, with one thing in mind. To kill a “wetback.”
I spoke to Antonio Varela shortly after the sentencing. He was devastated and shared his feelings regarding the lack of support from members of the Latino community and the nightmare the family had gone through in seeking justice for his beloved brother Juan Varela. Antonio was right next to Juan when Kelley killed him and was threatened by Kelley with the same gun he used to kill Juan.
This morning I had Susie Mendoza on my Spanish language radio program. Susie is Juan Varela’s sister and has taken the lead as the matriarch of the family since Paula Varela, Juan’s mother has grown weaker and much more ill since the murder of her beloved son. Susie shared her thoughts with me and was thankful for a system that in the end worked, but didn’t necessarily give the family the relief they sought. She was thankful for the Prosecutors ardent work in prosecuting the case and appreciated the Judge’s passion as she sentenced a convicted murderer.
One thing’s for sure, the first SB1070 related murder has flown under the radar. Victim of an attempt to sweep Arizona’s dirty little open secret under the political rug. As the saying goes, “All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for enough good men to do nothing.”
As the Varela family grieves every day, Latino leaders stand by idle, politicians continue furthering the great lie that Arizona is under an invasion, and every night, Arizonans like Gary Thomas Kelley settle down in front of their televisions and their radios with their beer in tow wondering what it would be like to kill a “wetback.”
Juan Varela R.I.P.
Carlos E. Galindo is a radio talk show host & political analyst conducting radio shows in both English and Spanish on four radio stations in Arizona. Mr. Galindo is a weekly contributor to KPFK 98.7 FM Los Angeles and has appeared on CNN, Univision and Telemundo as a political analyst. Mr. Galindo is also an Op-Ed columnist on Prensa Hispana Arizona. www.nospinonair.com/http://www.carlosgalindo.com
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