Tuesday, May 25, 2010 at 7:52 a.m.
A small memorial for Juan Varela at the site of his killing, nearby his house
The Phoenix Police Department has released its report on the May 6 fatal shooting of Juan Varela in South Phoenix, allegedly by his neighbor Gary Kelley.
Some have suggested Arizona's new "papers please" law was a motive in the killing.
However, the witnesses cited in the report never mentioned SB 1070 to investigators as a possible reason for the murder.
Kelley, according to Varela's brother Antonio, did exclaim, "You fucking wetback! Go back to Mexico!" before fatally shooting Juan Varela in the chin with a .38 revolver.
He repeated the "Go back to Mexico" line more than once, the victim's brother informed police.
Kelley, 50, remains in Maricopa County jail on a $750,000 bond, facing charges of second degree murder and aggravated assault. Sgt. Trent Crump of the Phoenix PD told me that investigators haven't ruled the killing out as a hate crime.
"We know that there were racial comments being made," Crump said. "We are uncertain as to whether or not race was the motivating factor."
Crump said the case has been transmitted to County Attorney Rick Romley's office for prosecution.
Ironically, as I reported in a previous blog post, several Hispanic neighbors of Kelley I spoke with shortly after the killing referred to him as a "good guy" who had never uttered a racial or ethnic slur toward them.
Kelley rented part of his house to a Hispanic man, and the area itself is largely Hispanic. Kelley had lived there around ten years, according to some.
The report states that a Hispanic resident who lived across from Kelley witnessed the incident, and cried out for Kelley not to shoot, as Kelley was pointing the gun at Varela.
The man contacted one of the detectives later to offer an opinion.
"He watched the early evening news and observed statements made by the victim's family," according to the report. "He insisted the shooting was not a bias incident. He had known the suspect for years and had never heard a racial slur from him at any time."
The Varelas and Kelley knew each other, even if the encounters were not always positive. Antonio Varela mentioned a previous incident where Kelley pushed his brother into a cactus.
He informed police that Kelley had a friendship with his sister, and stated that he had drinks with Kelley "approximately five years ago," but not since then.
"Juan and his brother Antonio had apparently assisted the suspect into his home on prior occasions," reads the report, "due to the fact the suspect was intoxicated beyond his ability to enter his home."
Police officers who responded to the initial call found Kelley's actions to be erratic, and he'd obviously been drinking.
"I observed the subject was holding what appeared to be two beer bottles in his hand," stated Officer Brian Freudenthal. "The subject had a smile on his face and put one of the bottles to his mouth and tilted the bottle up and gulped. The subject then took the other bottle and held it over his head. Beer poured out of the bottle onto his head and he shook his head back and forth."
Kelley was pepper-sprayed before being taken into custody. One officer noted that Kelley insisted that, "I love all people; white, black, or Hispanic and I am not racist in any way."
Another reported that, "While walking Gary to the patrol car he stated several times, `He kicked me in the balls. What else could I do?'"
Antonio Varela's statement has his brother attempting to kick Kelley, but only after Kelley had approached Juan while the latter was watering plants in the Varelas' yard.
During the altercation, Kelley yelled, "You fucking Mexican, go back to Mexico!" And later, "If you don't go back to Mexico, you're going to die!"
Juan Varela admonished Kelley, saying, "Don't come here and disrespect me at home. I have kids...I've lived here a long time. This country was Mexico before it was the U.S."
Kelley and the Varelas faced off, with Juan attempting to kick Kelley and missing. Kelley asked Juan if he wanted to die, pulled up his shirt, pulled out a gun and pointed it at both men. Kelley then shot Juan Varela, and pointed his gun at Antonio.
But Kelley did not shoot Antonio. Instead, he went back inside his house.
Juan Varela was later transported to Good Samaritan Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
"During the interview," reads the report, "Antonio added that Gary had told him previously that, `Mexicans are good for one thing only, to do my work.'"