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20-year-old murder case to move forward; Magistrate court judge rules evidence enough to proceed

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Gonzalo David Bonilla of Texas, in a North Virginia Avenue parking lot across from the Chaves County Courthouse, has been bound over to face a first-degree murder accessory charge in the 20-year-old killing of a local man. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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To some family members of murder victim Edward Raymond Sanchez, the day had been long in coming as they listened to Chaves County Magistrate Judge E.J. Fouratt render his decision Tuesday evening that Gonzalo David Bonilla of Texas will be bound over to district court to face a first-degree murder accessory charge, one that defense attorney S. Doug Jones Witt argued relied on the statements of another man implicated “up to his neck.”

Edward Raymond Sanchez, a few months before his September 1997 death. (File Photo)

“I am very happy,” said Lila Sanchez, sister of the deceased, who along with other family members has kept in contact with detectives and District Attorney staff to keep the case moving forward since the September 1997 crime.

Sanchez and other members of the deceased man’s family sat on one side of Courtroom 2 of Magistrate Court, while Bonilla’s friends and family sat on the other. Nine witnesses testified as prosecutors sought to prove that they have enough evidence to try Bonilla for his alleged involvement in the shooting of Sanchez, an auto parts store worker who was only 25 at the time of his death.

“I am very happy for my parents,” said Lila Sanchez of Roswell, referring to Mary Dolores and Raymond N. Sanchez. “It has been such a long time.”

And, she acknowledged, it could be years still until the matter is considered final.

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Bonilla, who chose not to comment about his case, was able to leave court after the judge’s decision. He awaits arraignment in 5th Judicial District Court in Chaves County, but the date of that proceeding has yet to be set.

Now living in Haltom, Texas, Bonilla, 43, is one of three people charged in connection with the murder of Sanchez.

Another man served as a key, although absent, figure in Tuesday’s hearing. Tony “Nacho” Gonzales, 40, of Roswell also was charged recently with a felony count of accessory to first-degree murder. His statements to investigators shortly after the murder were critical in the hearing.

The charge of accessory to first-degree murder carries a possible sentence of up to 30 years in prison, said Dianna Luce, District Attorney for the 5th Judicial District Court and the lead prosecutor at the hearing.

The third suspect, Hector Dominguez, was charged 17 years ago.

A warrant was issued in 2000 for his arrest on four felony counts, including first-degree murder. Either 41 or 43 now, he is believed to be somewhere in Mexico, where investigators think he went shortly after the murder.

Court documents filed in the case indicate that witnesses told law enforcement that Edward Sanchez left a gathering at Gonzales’ house either late on the night of Sept. 17 or in the early morning hours of Sept. 18, with Gonzales, Bonilla and Dominguez.

He was never seen alive again. His body was found Sept. 20, 1997, in a ditch off River Road near Bottomless Lakes State Park after his wife of about a year, Monica Sanchez Miller, filed a missing persons report with the Roswell Police Department. That report led police to interview people who were at the gathering at Gonzales’ house and, according to law enforcement, led them to identify the three suspects.

For years, the case stood still after the Dominguez warrant, at least to public eyes. But District Attorney Luce decided recently to do what her predecessors had opted not to do, move forward with the cases against Bonilla and Gonzales.

She explained that the accessory charge means that she does not have to prove that the defendants killed Sanchez, only that they were involved in the crime.

The challenges for the prosecution became apparent during the hearing, when many of the witnesses said that they had trouble recalling events from 20 years before or remembering what they told officers and deputies with the Roswell Police Department and the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office.

Witnesses included former law enforcement officers, a former medical office investigator and people living in an apartment building who said that they had seen a man dropping off a vehicle at their apartment complex early on the morning of Sept. 18, a vehicle prosecutors allege was the one used by Sanchez. One witness also testified that she saw a man she later identified as Gonzales wiping down the car door handle with a T-shirt.

Sanchez’s widow, Monica Miller, testified about the tense days following Sanchez’s disappearance and about the gun Sanchez had carried, a gun that is thought to have been used in the murder.

But the most pivotal point in the hearing came toward the end of the day.

Luce asked to enter into evidence the statement that Gonzales made in 1997 to sheriff’s deputies, including Danny Moore, who testified at the hearing.

According to remarks by attorneys during the hearing, that statement indicates that Gonzales said that he, Bonilla and Dominguez left his house together and took a drive to River Road and that Sanchez was killed by Dominguez when they got out of the car to urinate. The statement also said, according to prosecutors, that Gonzales had seen Bonilla shooting at Sanchez’s feet.

Witt objected strongly to the statement being accepted into evidence, saying it amounted to hearsay and that the “catch-all” exception that the prosecution sought to use to allow its entry should not be permitted. He argued that the prosecution had other options for presenting the evidence, including offering Gonzales immunity to solicit his testimony.

In his closing statement after the judge decided to allow the statement, Witt said, “That is the only evidence the state has, that naked assertion of the guy who is in this up to his neck.”

In making his ruling, Judge Fouratt said he had taken some time to review the testimony and evidence to ensure that what he was deciding was based on what had been presented at Tuesday’s hearing and not from previous hearings.

“I do feel that the prosecution has made a prima facie case,” he said. “It is my decision to bind the case over to district court.”

The next hearing related to the murder is a scheduled Feb. 5 arraignment in district court for Gonzales.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.