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Court dismisses charge in 1997 murder case

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Gonzalo David Bonilla attends a January 2018 court hearing in Roswell. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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A charge against one of the three men accused of collaborating in the 1997 murder of a local man — a case that once garnered national media attention — has been dismissed.

Murder suspect Hector Dominguez is seen in a photo from the 1990s when he was in his 20s. He would be about 41 years old now. (Submitted Photo)

The victim’s sister, nevertheless, said that “there is hope” that someone will face justice for the fatal shooting of her brother, Edward Raymond Sanchez.

District Attorney Dianna Luce filed Oct. 9 in the 5th District Court in Roswell to drop the accessory to first-degree murder charge against Gonzalo David Bonilla, 44, now of Haltom, Texas. Bonilla had pleaded not guilty shortly after he was charged in November 2017.

The dismissal was done “without prejudice,” according to court documents, which means the charge could be refiled in the future.

Luce was said to be unavailable for comment by press time as she was prosecuting a murder trial in another city. A call to Bonilla’s lawyer, S. Doug Jones Witt, was not returned.

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Luce’s decision follows an August verdict of not guilty in the trial of Tony “Nacho” Gonzales, 41, of Roswell. He also had been accused of being an accessory in the murder.

The third man charged — Hector Dominguez, 41, sometimes known as Armando Dominguez Barraza, according to court documents — is still the subject of an arrest warrant. He is believed to have gone to Mexico shortly after the crime and has never appeared in a U.S. court regarding this case.

Originally charged in October 2000, Dominguez faces four felony counts for murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and tampering with evidence.

Lila Sanchez, one of the victim’s sisters, said the family supports the prosecution’s decision.

“If they had gone through with it (the Bonilla trial) now, they might have gotten a not-guilty verdict,” she said. “But they are continuing to work on it.”

She also said that the family was grateful for the progress that had occurred in recent years, with Luce’s office filing against Bonilla and Gonzales in 2017. The family has periodically, over the past decades, reached out to law enforcement and the news media about the case, and in part, due to their efforts, the search for Dominguez and the case was featured in 2004 on an episode of the “America’s Most Wanted” TV show.

“Everything we set out to do for our brother, we accomplished,” Sanchez said. “We got it to court and we got people to look into it.”

She said that she and family members also believe in a “higher justice” than courts, with people accountable to God for their actions.

Edward Sanchez, an auto parts retail store worker and auto mechanic, was 25 when he was killed. The family, some witnesses and the prosecution have described a brutal premeditated crime that occurred because of grudges between Sanchez and Bonilla. The two had known each other most of their lives, growing up as neighbors in Roswell. Bonilla also had a son with one of the victim’s sisters, Amanda Sanchez.

Bonilla has never offered any substantial information about the situation during his questioning by law enforcement, while Dominguez was never apprehended after the crime, suspected of leaving the area quickly after the incident to go to Mexico, possibly the Chihuahua area, where he has family.

That has left Gonzales as the only eyewitness to the shooting to give an official account of what occurred between the four men. In videotaped interviews with Chaves County Sheriff’s detectives, he described being an unwitting party to a horrible incident and being compelled to help cover up the crime out of fear for his own life.

According to Gonzales, he asked Sanchez to drive him to the grocery store on Sept. 17, 1997, and then to stay at his house while some friends gathered. During the evening, Bonilla and Dominguez showed up at the house, and about midnight, the four men all left together for a drive.

They traveled southeast of Roswell to River Road near Bottomless Lakes Park and exited the vehicle next to a large ditch to urinate. Gonzales said that Bonilla, in possession of a handgun, and Dominguez, holding Sanchez’s gun, began shooting at the ground and at Sanchez’s feet, saying “Run, puto, Run.”

Gonzales said he was standing nearby but was thinking that Dominguez and Bonilla were only kidding around. Then, Gonzales said, Dominguez looked at him and asked, “Are you going to say anything?” Gonzales asked, “About what?” Dominguez then shot Sanchez in the back of the head, according to Gonzales.

Describing himself as in fear of what might happen to him, Gonzales told detectives he then complied with instructions to move Sanchez’s body to the ditch and to drive with the other two as they threw the murder weapon in one of the lakes. He also returned with them to the ditch to check on Sanchez. When he told them that he thought Sanchez might still be alive, Dominguez shot the victim again, according to Gonzales. Then the three men drove back to Roswell and Gonzales drove Sanchez’s car to a local apartment building, where he was spotted by a few apartment residents wiping down the car and leaving the area.

After apartment residents called the police about the car and Sanchez’s widow reported her husband missing, detectives located the victim’s decomposing body on Sept. 20, 1997. Witnesses at Gonzales’ trial and autopsy results confirmed much of what he described about the incident.

Years later, Gonzales also told detectives that they could find the guns used in the crime in the Hagerman canal. Based on the information Gonzales gave, New Mexico State Police divers found a handle to a pistol that matched descriptions witnesses gave for Sanchez’s gun.

Prosecutors said Gonzales had much closer ties to the three other men than his lawyers or his own statements indicated and that his primary concern after the incident, as heard in taped phone conversations, was to not “rat” on Bonilla. Gonzales’ lawyers, however, argued that no evidence existed to indicate that their client was anything more than a frightened man acting out of concern for his own safety.

Lila Sanchez said, “There is still hope” that justice will occur for a brother she has described as a caring son, sibling and uncle. “We are OK with this decision for now. They are dropping the charges for now, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be something that occurs in the future.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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