Mistrial Declared in Case of Phoenix Man Who Killed Neighbor in "Neighborhood Dispute"

The jurors in the murder trial of Gary Thomas Kelly, the Phoenix man who killed his Hispanic neighbor after apparently getting drunk and spouting off some racial slurs, couldn't reach a verdict, Maricopa Superior Court officials announced this morning.

In May of last year, Kelly allegedly shot his neighbor, Juan Varela, during an altercation on the sidewalk in front of their homes.

The two men had been neighbors in the 6400 Block of South Montezuma Street in Phoenix for years and had frequently had altercations in the past. According to the Phoenix Police Department, during an altercation on May 6, Kelly used racial slurs while arguing with Varela.

As the two men were arguing, Varela's brother, Antonio Varela, approached them and started getting into it with Kelly, as well.

At that point, police say, Juan Varela either "kicked or attempted to kick Kelly."

Kelly responded by pulling out a gun and pointing at the brothers before firing it at Juan. Juan Varela fell to the sidewalk, and Kelly went back into his house.

Varela later died at an area hospital.

Responding officers found Kelly and the gun used in the murder inside Kelly's house. Kelly, officers say, appeared drunk when he was confronted by police shortly after the shooting.

At the time, there were indications that this was a race-related shooting, claims disputed by neighbors of the victim and Phoenix PD.

From New Times' initial report on Kelly:

Interestingly, that block of South Phoenix is populated with a mix of Hispanics, African-Americans and whites, many of whom have owned their houses for many years, say the residents. Also, most of the people I spoke with -- who happened to be Hispanic -- were quick to say that the suspect was a "good guy" who never displayed any racial animus toward them.

"Make sure you say he wasn't a racist," said a heavily tattooed Hispanic man named Jason, who said he'd had beers with Gary on more than one occasion...

Everyone in the neighborhood seemed shocked by the killing. They said there was no racial tension, even though some admitted that their neighborhood was not the safest. Many of the homes on the block sported iron bars on the window.

One neighbor said the suspect even rented out part of his house to a Hispanic person. Others said the suspect lived alone, and had taken over the residence about ten years ago after the death of his grandparents, who owned it. They said they believed he worked as a handyman and landscaper.

Some of the residents, who did not want their names used, described the victim as "loud" and sometimes obnoxious. But at least one resident said the victim was a "good neighbor" too.

We'll no doubt learn more, as this shakes out. But at least initially, it doesn't appear to be the sort of SB 1070-related violence that many have been fearing.

"The temptation is to say this is a racially motivated deal," said Thompson. "But this guy committed the ultimate slur when he shot and killed this man. That doesn't justify anything. Just trying to put things in perspective."

Kelly's due back in court on February 17.
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James King
Contact: James King