Home News Local News Passage of time complicates Sanchez murder trial

Passage of time complicates Sanchez murder trial

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Tony "Nacho" Gonzales, right, stands with his lawyers, Jared Kallunki, left, and Richard Pugh, middle, on the first day of his trial. Gonzales was found not guilty as an accessory in the 1997 murder of Edward Sanchez. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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The trial of Tony “Nacho” Gonzales of Roswell for his alleged involvement in the murder of Edward Raymond Sanchez in September 1997 ended in a not-guilty verdict Friday.

Though prosecutors and defense attorneys presented differing versions of the case, there was agreement that Sanchez was needlessly murdered, justice has not been served in the case and the long passage of time since the murder has made the case more difficult to defend and prosecute.

The legal defense team described Gonzales, 19 at the time, as a young man put in a horrible position, witnessing the cold-blooded murder of Sanchez, allegedly at the hand of Hector Dominguez, and being instructed by Dominguez and another person at the scene, Gonzalo Bonilla, to help in the subsequent cover-up, as Gonzales feared possibly being the next victim.

Not only did Gonzales not “deliberate” to cause Sanchez’s death, the defense lawyers said, he didn’t “help, encourage or cause” the shooting, either.

The prosecution team had a different version, talking of a Gonzales who was an active participant.

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As the trial got underway, jurors were told Sanchez, 25, had been at Gonzales’ house the evening of Sept. 17, 1997, when Dominguez and Bonilla arrived. Gonzales, Sanchez, Dominguez and Bonilla left the house, getting into Dominguez’s car for a ride to the Bottomless Lakes State Park area.

At one point, they pulled over on River Road — that was when, according to Gonzales, Dominguez shot Sanchez the first time. They left but returned to the crime scene later, when Sanchez’s body was moved to a ditch and Dominguez allegedly shot the victim for a second time.

In reaching its verdict, the jury decided Gonzales was not guilty of the charge of accessory to first-degree murder. Local jurors cannot discuss their decisions for at least three months, Judge Freddie Romero of the 5th Judicial District Court of Chaves County instructed them.

In spite of disagreements during the four-day trial between defense lawyers Richard Pugh and Jared Kallunki and the prosecutors, District Attorney Dianna Luce and Imad Awad, all could agree that the long passage of time since the murder presented difficulties for both sides.

“This case is something where everyone should have been charged a long time ago and justice brought for him (Sanchez),” Luce said after the verdict.

Before the case went to the jury, Kallunki asked the judge to dismiss the matter on the grounds that the delay from the date of the crime to the time that Gonzales was charged in early 2018 created a “presumption of prejudice” against Gonzales by hampering the defense’s ability to examine evidence and question witnesses.

Some key witnesses, including the lead Chaves County Sheriff’s detective on the case in 1997, have passed on. Others cannot be located. Some witnesses who did testify said they had difficulty remembering events. And a 2010 fire at a New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator facility destroyed some of the notes and photos from the autopsy and field examination of the victim.

While defense attorneys said missing testimony and evidence hurt their case, the prosecution argued that the defense’s case was in some cases bolstered, not harmed, by the lack of testimony or witnesses.

“The delay concerns the court greatly,” said Judge Romero, after questioning lawyers about the medical examiner’s evidence but before deciding nevertheless that the 20-year gap in time did not warrant a dismissal of the case.

Gonzales chose not to testify during the trial. That means that his videotaped statements with Chaves County Sheriff’s detectives in September 1997 and 2001 remain the only public accounts by a direct witness giving details about what happened that night.

According to those statements, Gonzales was unaware of what was going to happen when the men stopped that night. He said he thought Dominguez was kidding around when he was shooting at Sanchez’s legs and feet. Then, Gonzales said, Dominguez looked at him and said, “Are you going to say anything?” Gonzales said, “About what?” Then, according to Gonzales, Dominguez shot Sanchez in the back of the head with a .44 revolver, causing the victim to fall to the ground immediately.

The two other men remain charged in the crime. Bonilla, 43, of Haltom, Texas, has pleaded not guilty to a first-degree murder accessory charge brought in late 2017 and is scheduled for trial in Roswell on Oct. 31.

Dominguez, 41 to 43 years old, was initially charged in 2000 with four felonies, including first-degree murder. A 2018 grand jury indictment also was brought against him. Authorities believe he left for Mexico shortly after the crime, and he has not been located by U.S. law enforcement since.

“We will evaluate those cases,” Luce said, “but obviously those cases are different.”

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