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Trial begins for 1997 murder case

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A trial began Tuesday for one of three men charged in connection with a murder committed more than two decades ago, a case once featured on an “America’s Most Wanted” TV episode.

Tony “Nacho” Gonzales, 40, of Roswell has been charged as an accessory to first-degree murder, a crime that left Edward Raymond Sanchez in a ditch for two days and allegedly involves a suspect, Hector Dominguez, who has remained a fugitive since originally charged with the crime 17 years ago.

Gonzales sat silently as he listened to prosecutors and his defense attorney present their opening statements to the jury in Courtroom 3 of the 5th Judicial District Court of Chaves County. Judge Freddie Romero is presiding in the case, expected to end by Friday.

“There was a score that was settled September 1997 as Edward Sanchez was shot twice,” District Attorney Dianna Luce told jurors.

As outlined by the prosecution, Sanchez, 25-years-old at the time, had been at Gonzales’ house on the evening of Sept. 17, 1997, when two friends of Sanchez — Hector Dominguez and Gonzalo Bonilla — showed up. Bonilla and Sanchez were believed by some witness accounts to be involved in arguments and disputes at various times during the many years they had known each other, including one a few days before the murder.

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On that night in 1997, Gonzales, Sanchez, Dominguez and Bonilla had been drinking for some time when Gonzales decided to leave his house with the other three. They got into Dominguez’s car for a ride to the Bottomless Lakes State Park area. At one point, they pulled over on River Road and left the car to urinate. That was when, according to Gonzales, Dominguez shot Sanchez the first time. They left but returned to the crime scene a bit later, when Sanchez’s body was moved to a ditch and Dominguez shot the victim for the second time.

Luce told jurors that the evidence would show that Gonzales originally left Roswell after the crime but was located by law enforcement. He then provided much of the information to Roswell Police Department officers and Chaves County Sheriff’s Office detectives that indicated his involvement in the incident.

Luce said Gonzales had told law enforcement he had heard Dominguez shooting at Sanchez and taunting him before the first shot that felled the victim. Gonzales also is said to have told law enforcement that he had returned to the scene when Dominguez shot Sanchez again, had helped dispose of the two guns used and had hid the victim’s car.

Defense attorney Richard Pugh instead described Gonzales as a frightened young man of 19, years younger than the others, who “barely knew” Dominguez and Bonilla. Those two spent much of the night speaking Spanish, Pugh said — a language Gonzales did not speak fluently.

Pugh said Gonzales only did what he was told to do because he didn’t know whether Bonilla and Dominguez intended to shoot him as well. He also said that Sanchez was killed by the first head injury.

Pugh pointed out that detectives had chosen not to seek an arrest warrant for Gonzales after interviewing him in 1997 and 2001, although they had obtained a warrant for Dominguez in 2000 that charged him not only with first-degree murder but three other felonies related to the case.

“There will be no evidence in this case whatsoever that Tony Gonzales killed, murdered, pulled the trigger and caused Edward Sanchez’s death — period.” Pugh said. “The state is instead pursuing a theory they refer to as an accessory or accomplice theory. The state will not prove in any way, shape or form that Tony Gonzales helped Hector Dominguez commit this murder. They will not prove to you that Tony Gonzales encouraged Hector Dominguez to commit this murder, nor will the state prove to you that Tony Gonzales caused Hector Dominguez to commit this murder. Hector Dominguez is the one who committed this murder. That is what the evidence will show.”

The case has been kept in the public eye over the years in part because of the efforts of Sanchez’s family, some of whom still live in the area. At one point, a web page about the case had been created, and, through some interviews with the media, some family members had urged continued investigations of the case.

Although Dominguez was originally charged 17 years ago, prosecutors and law enforcement believe he had left for Mexico, possibly the Chihuahua area, shortly after the murder. Chaves County Sheriff Britt Snyder has said that periodically, deputies receive calls of sightings regarding Dominguez, given that the suspect also has family in the Roswell area. But Dominguez is not known to have been located or detained by U.S. law enforcement since the murder.

An arrest warrant was issued recently for Gonzalo Bonilla, 43, now of Haltom, Texas. He is now due to stand trial Oct. 31 on a charge of accessory to first-degree murder.

The accessory charges carry a possible penalty of up to 30 years in prison, Luce has said.

Dominguez has given different names and birth dates to law enforcement over the years. He is described as between 41 to 43 years old, with brown hair and brown eyes, 5-foot, 9-inches and was last known to weigh between 159 and 175 pounds. Last seen, he had tattoos on both arms.

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

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.