Arizona rancher says he stared down barrel of AK-47 when he fired warning shots 'over the trees'

Arizona rancher George Alan Kelly said men came towards his home with an AK-47 aimed at him the day he was arrested for murder.

"He turned towards me … pointed the AK at me. And that’s when — everybody says was the dumbest thing I ever did — they said you should have shot him because he was getting ready to shoot you," Kelly told NewsNation.

Instead, he told the news outlet that he "shot over the tree, over the top of his head, and thank God him and the other guys ran."

Later that day — Jan. 30, 2023 — he found a body and called the sheriff's department. Responding officers accused Kelly of fatally shooting the victim, an illegal immigrant, and hauled him away in cuffs.

MORE: Jury visits ranch near U.S.-Mexico border where George Kelly is charged with killing a migrant

His murder charge became the center of an already-contentious national debate about border security raging throughout the country, especially in states bordering Mexico. 

"They accused me of shooting him," Kelley told NewsNation in his first interview since he became a free man. "I said, ‘No, I didn’t shoot him.’ And they said, ‘Well, we think you did, and we’re arresting you for first-degree murder.’"

MORE: George Kelly trial: Mistrial declared for Arizona border rancher accused of killing migrant

The 75-year-old man spent 22 days in jail, which he said was the worst experience of his life. "If hell is anything like that, I’m gonna do everything I can not to go," Kelly said. 

Seven jurors wanted to acquit Kelly, but one "lone holdout" was unwavering in wanting to convict the elderly rancher despite the evidence and testimony, according to the rancher's lawyer. 

The judge declared the case a mistrial in April, and prosecutors said they won't have a retrial.

The victim was identified as Gabriel Cuen-Buitimea, and prosecutors claimed he was unarmed. 

But Kelly's defense lawyers said prosecutors failed to prove Cuen-Buitimea was shot by Kelly's gun. The forensics and the ballistics didn't match Kelly's gun, according to the defense. 

MORE: George Kelly trial: Lone juror reportedly the reason for mistrial

The fatal bullet was never recovered from the scene. 

"I don’t feel that I was treated fairly in the investigation," Kelly said. "I think I was arrested without cause, without probable cause."

Kelly said he feared for his wife's safety and his own. The rancher's wife, Wanda Kelly, testified during the trial that they were sitting on their patio when they saw armed men dressed in camouflage and carrying rifles and backpacks walking about 100 feet from their home. 

MORE: Arizona rancher defense consultant claims 'cartel influence' in murder probe, rips sheriff's past comments

Dr. Ron Martinelli, a criminologist working pro bono for Kelly's defense team, accused the prosecutors of "extreme confirmation bias."

"Just imagine being on an isolated ranch in your 70s. You and your wife. And you are frequently seeing armed incursions on your ranch," Martinelli told Fox News Digital in a previous interview.

"It's a war. We try to fight this war in an ethical, moral and legal way of doing it. But we can't be obstructed by a degraded criminal justice and law enforcement system. We can't allow that to happen in the United States of America. We want to be a free country." 

Now that the trial is over, Kelly and his wife want to "start life over again," but it's difficult after a costly trial. 

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George Alan Kelly

"We have no funds," Kelly said. "Our life savings, it's gone."

Martinelli said Kelly used about $2 million in personal funding and funding from their legal defense fund on GiveSendGo, an online fundraiser set up by the rancher's wife. 

George said that's enough to keep them afloat for now, but he doesn't know for how long. 

"That cloud’s still over my head," Kelly said. "It’s a long road, and we’re not out of danger yet, but we’re not giving up. I’m not going to let them beat me down."

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