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Jury finds Gonzales not guilty

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Tony “Nacho” Gonzales, 40, has been found not guilty as an accessory in the 1997 murder of a Roswell man. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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A local jury has found a Roswell man not guilty as an accessory in the 20-year-old murder of Edward Raymond Sanchez.

Tony “Nacho” Gonzales, 40, was acquitted Friday night after a four-day trial held in Courtroom 3 of the 5th Judicial District Court of Chaves County. Judge Freddie Romero presided over the case.

“We are very thankful that Tony was able to get a fair trial,” said lead defense attorney Richard Pugh. “We are very thankful for the jury and that Tony gets to get out and be with his family.”

Gonzales had been one of three people charged in connection with the brutal crime in September 1997 that left the 25-year-old Sanchez in a ditch off of River Road not far from Bottomless Lakes State Park after having been shot twice in the head.

The other two people charged are Hector Dominguez and Gonzalo Bonilla. Dominguez, believed to be 41 to 43 years old, was originally charged in 2000 with four felonies, including first-degree murder. He is thought to have fled to Mexico shortly after the murder and has not been apprehended by U.S. law enforcement since. Bonilla, 43, now of Haltom, Texas, was charged in early 2018 as an accessory to first-degree murder. He has entered a not-guilty plea in the case, scheduled for an Oct. 31 trial in Roswell.

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To the defense, the verdict confirmed that Dominguez is the murderer and that Gonzales not only didn’t shoot Sanchez but also did not act as an accessory because he did not “help, encourage or cause” the crime.

“Real justice for Edward’s family — and, first of all, they do deserve justice — is whenever Hector Dominguez goes to trial,” Pugh said.

According to the defense version of the crime and Gonzales’ interviews with law enforcement, Gonzales had no idea that Dominguez would shoot Sanchez when the four men went for a drive late Sept. 17, 1997, or early Sept 18. The four had been at Gonzales’ house, where they had been drinking together with some others. After driving for a while, the four stopped near a ditch to urinate. Gonzales told law enforcement that he thought Dominguez was only kidding around when he shot at Sanchez’s feet a few times and taunted him. Gonzales and his lawyers said Gonzales was shocked when Dominguez then shot Sanchez in the back of the head with Sanchez’s own gun. Gonzales and his lawyers said the actions he took next — to help move the body to a ditch where Dominguez shot him again with a different gun, hide the victim’s car and flee the area immediately afterward — were done out of fear of being shot as well.

The prosecution, however, argued that Gonzales was a crucial part of the evening’s events, the one who invited Sanchez to his house, the one who drove the four to River Road, the one who would later be recorded telling others that he wouldn’t “rat” on Bonilla. Prosecutors also said Gonzales had a much deeper connection to the other two suspects than he admitted, shown in part by the fact that he was familiar with Bonilla’s whereabouts years after the murder.

Dianna Luce, 5th Judicial District Attorney and the lead prosecutor on the case, said her office will evaluate how to proceed with the other cases related to the crime, but stressed that the cases are different.

‘We appreciate the jury’s work. We understand that they have a job to do,” she said. “We are saddened by the outcome for the family of Edward Sanchez. It has been a long time. This is a case where everyone should have been charged many years ago and justice brought for Edward. We’ll move forward from here.”

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