Suicide or murder: Who killed Fort Worth attorney Bonnie Horinek?

Posted Monday, Oct. 08, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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First of three parts

Bonnie Horinek arrived at the federal courthouse in Fort Worth one morning in August 1993 looking tired.

Worried that the dark circles under her eyes had something to do with their ongoing trial, fellow attorney Jay Rutherford pressed her about what was wrong.

The answer stunned him.

Bonnie's husband, Warren, drunk and angry, had fired a shot over her head as she lay in bed.

Despite her obvious distress, Bonnie insisted on continuing with the trial. A concerned Rutherford later asked how she could live with somebody like that.

"I don't want to have to testify at your murder trial because if he shot at you once, he's likely to do it again," Rutherford warned Bonnie.

She replied that she didn't think Warren would shoot at her again, but if he did, he could get away with it.

"He's a cop," Bonnie told Rutherford. "He knows how to get away with something like that. You're never going to have to testify at a murder trial."

Two years later, Bonnie was dead.

Her husband immediately became the only suspect, although he said he was in another room when the shot was fired.

With inconclusive evidence and no witnesses, the Tarrant County district attorney's office declined to file charges.

But Bonnie's grieving family wouldn't take no for an answer and essentially forced a Tarrant County grand jury to hear evidence in the case.

Warren, whose drinking habit had cost him his job with the Fort Worth Police Department in January 1993, was eventually tried, convicted and sentenced to 30 years for shooting his wife in the chest.

But to this day, usually aligned colleagues remain in bitter disagreement over whether Bonnie was the victim of murder or suicide and whether Warren has served 16 years for a crime he didn't commit.

"Guilty as hell," insists J.D. Roberts, the now-retired homicide detective who was the lead investigator in the case.

"I honestly believe that an innocent person was convicted," said retired Sgt. Paul Kratz, Roberts' supervisor at the time of the killing.

From his prison unit in Cuero, the gray-haired man holds out hope that his conviction will be thrown out based on what he argues is new evidence proving his innocence.

At issue is whether bloodstains on Warren's shirt prove he was in the room when Bonnie was shot or whether they could have happened after he rushed in and began to perform CPR on his dying wife.

Warren's last-ditch shot at freedom, a writ of habeas corpus, was heard late last year in a Tarrant County courtroom, and state District Judge Louis Sturns' decision is pending.

"Everybody that is saying, 'I know she didn't do it; he had to have done it,' I think emotion is what's playing on their side," Warren, 50, said in a prison interview in May.

"What's playing on the side of the people saying that I'm innocent is the evidence and facts. When it's all said and done, I think that's what's going to win out.

"I hope. I pray."

What Bonnie wanted

Bonnie and Warren were both divorced when they met through a mutual friend in the early 1990s. They lived together for a time and married in June 1992.

From the beginning, her parents were not impressed.

"She always was bringing home strays," recalled Barbara Arnett, her mother. "I've always considered Warren a stray that she brought home to take care of, to fix, to rehabilitate."

Bonnie was a graduate of Texas Christian University and the University of Texas Law School. She wanted no children, throwing herself instead into her job as a labor and employment attorney at the Jackson Walker law firm.

"She was very smart, a very good writer," Rutherford remembers. "When she first started practicing, the profession didn't have quite as many female attorneys ... as they do now. She was kind of blazing a trail back then. She had nothing but a very bright future ahead of her."

Bonnie's family believed that her husband, a Fort Worth officer since 1985, was content to ride his wife's coattails.

"Here she was, an attorney with a prestigious law firm. ... Warren had little, if any, ambition," Arnett said. "He had a couple of hours of college, I believe, but he was content with that. All my children are so driven that we just couldn't understand, but they say opposites attract."

Bonnie's parents kept their opinions to themselves.

"If this was what Bonnie wanted, we were willing to go along with it," Arnett said.

Dark secrets

After Bonnie's violent death, friends and colleagues began revealing disturbing pieces of the Horineks' relationship to Bob and Barbara Arnett.

"We never knew anything at all about domestic violence," Barbara Arnett said. "Domestic violence was something that happened to poor people, to undereducated people. It never happened to nice people like us. It never happened to attorneys.

"We had no clue. Boy, did we learn quickly after she was murdered."

Like the night in May 1992, when a drunken Warren fired his department-issued weapon into an empty pool in the back yard of the couple's Benbrook home, prompting police to respond.

Warren was not arrested. But less than a year later, his drinking and off-duty behavior cost him his job.

After he got into trouble for fighting at a Fort Worth bar -- the second incident involving off-duty intoxication -- Police Chief Thomas Windham gave him a choice in January 1993: termination or a 20-day suspension and alcohol treatment.

Warren quit, saying a police psychologist prohibited him from attending the alcohol treatment of his choice.

The Arnetts were again left in the dark.

"When Warren left his job with the Police Department, they told us that he was going back to school to get a degree and then going to law school so he and Bonnie could practice together," Arnett said.

"Several months later, they said he had started his own business getting translators for the Police Department. This was, of course, with Bonnie's money."

Nor did the Arnetts know that, in August 1993, police took their son-in-law for a psychological evaluation after he threatened suicide.

Warren said he was going through an "identity crisis" about no longer being an officer and was not serious when he made a remark to Bonnie about shooting himself.

Bonnie called a friend, officer Holly Murtaugh, to the couple's home in Fort Worth, where they had moved, to talk to Warren. Fort Worth patrol officers soon followed.

Murtaugh later testified that as Warren was placed in the back of a patrol car, he threatened his wife, saying she would "pay" for causing his hospitalization.

Warren says he was addressing Murtaugh, whom he blamed for bringing officers to his home.

"That was stupid"

But none of those incidents came close to the terrifying August 1993 shooting in the bedroom where Bonnie later died.

Patti Tavlian remembers that Bonnie, her best friend since childhood, mostly avoided talking about her husband during their occasional lunches. But at one meeting, she burst into tears. She said he had fired a gun over her head as she lay in bed.

"She was probably the smartest woman, maybe the smartest person I'd ever met, so it came as a shock," Tavlian recalled.

As she arrived at the restaurant that day, Tavlian noticed clothing and shoeboxes in the back seat of Bonnie's car. Bonnie told her she was going to check into a hotel that afternoon. Before parting ways, they visited Bonnie's parents.

"She said, 'Please do not tell Mom and Dad.They have no idea what's going on,'" Tavlian recalled. "I said, 'Bonnie, you need to tell them because they can help you.' She said, 'Please do not.'"

The next day, Bonnie called to tell Tavlian that she had returned to her husband.

"I just begged her to please leave him and never go back," Tavlian remembered.

David Lobingier, the special prosecutor who eventually handled Warren's case after the district attorney's office declined to prosecute, said the emotional abuse ran deep.

"He was terribly abusive. ... He didn't beat her up and hit her in the head, but the mental torture was unbelievable," Lobingier said.

Warren says he never abused his wife.

"This innuendo I was a wife abuser or whatever is just not true," he said from prison.

"I never laid a hand on Bonnie. I never, ever, ever slapped or hit her or anything like that, but the innuendo says that over and over again. I know it says that. It screams that -- tumultuous relationship."

Yes, he fired a shot over his wife's head, he said. But it was just a joke.

Bonnie, refusing his requests to stay up late one night, had pulled a pillow over her head, chanting: "I'm ignoring Warren. I'm ignoring Warren."

"We kept that .38 between the mattress and the box spring on the side she slept on. It was her gun," Warren recalled.

"I'm like, 'OK, well ignore this.' Then I held it against the wall and fired. ... I wasn't trying to be abusive. I was trying to be a smart ass, funny.

"But that was stupid."

"My wife just shot herself!"

On the evening of March 14, 1995, less than two years after the "joke," Bonnie and Warren met for drinks at the TGI Friday's at Fort Worth's Ridgmar mall.

It was their final night together.

Over a four-hour period, she drank roughly a bottle of wine and he had 11 beers.

They left about 11:15 p.m., in separate vehicles, for the five-minute drive to their home on Greenway Road.

Twenty-six minutes later, Warren called 911.

"My wife just shot herself!" he exclaimed.

He said they had been getting ready for bed when he went to their home office to check phone messages. Suddenly, he said, a shot rang out.

Fearing an intruder, Warren said, he grabbed his shotgun and ran to the bedroom.

"She's lying on the bed and she's making this horrendous noise like she can't breathe," he said in the prison interview. "She can't get any air."

He said he threw the shotgun down and ran to his wife.

"All I see is all this blood on her throat," he recalled. "I'm thinking to myself, my gosh, she was messing around with that damn gun and it went off and she shot herself in the throat."

On the taped 911 call, Warren's speech is at times slurred and unintelligible. At one point, he tries to dial 911 again despite already being on the line with dispatchers.

As a MedStar dispatcher joins the call, Warren shouts at his wife: "Why did you do that? Goddammit. Why? Why?" before returning to the line.

"Are you there?"

"Yes, what's the problem sir?"

"We ... My wife just shot herself. Get over here now! Now!"

"We're on our way, sir."

"All right. Get an ambulance and get CareFlite."

A dispatcher tells Warren to start CPR, and what sounds like breathing is heard between his continued shouts at his wife.

"Why the hell did you do that? All right, all right. Talk to me. Talk to me."

When firefighters arrived, they found a blood-soaked blue pillowcase tied so tightly around Bonnie's neck that one later testified that he couldn't get his finger underneath it to check for a pulse. Warren had to be removed from the room after jumping on the bed, straddling her body and trying to continue CPR efforts.

Next to Bonnie lay two guns, a revolver and Warren's shotgun.

"He's seen too many crime scene shows"

Crime scene investigator Jim Varnon remembers arriving at the Horinek house that night and recognizing Warren, probably because they had worked together on a burglary when they were both on the force.

Warren was sitting on his couch, handcuffed, obviously drunk, and "chattering like a magpie," recalled Varnon, now retired.

Varnon scribbled notes as he listened to Warren's exchange with Roberts, the lead detective.

"She was drunk and playing around with the gun. I think she shot herself in the neck," Warren told Roberts, according to Varnon's notes. "... If you'll take these off me, I'll walk you through the whole thing. Take these handcuffs off me."

"He was not combative -- not one bit," Varnon recalled. "He was not belligerent at all. He was cooperative, begging people to listen."

Varnon jotted down more of Warren's statements when he went to the jail to photograph the blood on the former officer's shirt, face, hands and legs.

He seized Warren's clothing -- a Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt, underwear briefs and his watch.

"If you want to know the truth and nothing but, I was in my office. I heard a shot go off. I thought she was kidding around," Varnon wrote, quoting Warren. "I got my 12-gauge to see if it was a burglar or whatever."

"I love my wife. She was the greatest person in the world. I wouldn't even slap my wife, let alone shoot her."

To Varnon, Warren's account matched evidence at the home: Warren's fear of an intruder explained the shotgun officers found on the bed.

His mistaken belief that his wife had been shot in the neck -- because of blood pooling at her throat -- accounted for the pillowcase. CPR efforts explained the blood on his clothes and body.

The autopsy finding that Bonnie died from a contact wound in the chest only strengthened Varnon's belief that she had killed herself.

"When you have a contact gunshot wound to the chest, it's virtually always going to be a suicide," Varnon said. "... There's no reason for somebody to shoot another person by pressing that gun into their chest. You can shoot them just as accurately from a few feet away. You press it to somebody, it invites a struggle."

Roberts, the homicide investigator, scoffs at Varnon's theories.

"Jim is not an investigator. Jim was a collector of evidence. That's all he did. That's all he was supposed to do," Roberts said. "He's seen too many crime scene shows."

When Bonnie died, Roberts was a detective with 12 years of homicide work under his belt. He said he knew almost immediately that Warren was "guilty as hell."

He points to the lack of fingerprints on the .38-caliber handgun used in the shooting and the absence of gunpowder residue on Bonnie's and Warren's hands -- indications that the gun had been wiped down and that Warren had cleaned his and Bonnie's hands.

The bullet, which investigators said traveled through the mattress, box spring and carpet before hitting the concrete below, was never found, Roberts said.

"A dead person cannot tamper with a crime scene," Roberts said.

The morning after Bonnie's death, Roberts said, he got a phone call from a lawyer friend of Bonnie's who had run into the couple at Friday's.

"He stated that Horinek was sloppy drunk and that Horinek had reached out and grabbed the attorney's tie and started shaking the attorney by the tie and making drunken remarks to him," Roberts said. "The attorney got loose and left the area as soon as possible."

Couple that with Warren's past transgressions with firearms, and it quickly became clear to Roberts that Warren's temper had escalated to murder.

"Bonnie is no longer with us"

Barbara Arnett and her husband were asleep when Warren called.

"His words were, 'Bonnie is no longer with us,'" Barbara Arnett recalled. "Bob immediately thought there'd been a car accident and that she had been killed. He [Warren] alluded to the fact that he didn't know what happened but he thought Bonnie shot herself.

"Bob and I are going, 'No, I don't think so.'"

Police later called, confirming that their daughter was dead.

"We were told ... that we needed to go to the funeral home to make arrangements because Warren was in jail," Arnett said. "We go to the funeral home and he was there."

Warren was released hours after his arrest pending further investigation. Arnett was sickened at the sight of him.

"Did you ever feel revulsion for something that just made you want to throw up? That's exactly what I felt. Pure, unadulterated hate," she said.

Arnett ran from the funeral home, hysterical, after learning that Warren intended to bury Bonnie, not cremate her as Arnett said her daughter had wanted.

On the day Bonnie was buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Arnett refused to watch. Her husband led her to and from the grave site.

"I sat there with my eyes closed the whole time," Arnett said. "... I never saw where she was buried, never intend to. I understand the tombstone says something to the effect of 'Beloved Wife.'

"I'd like to take a jackhammer to it."

Warren said he quickly realized that his in-laws blamed him for their daughter's death.

"I think it was probably like the second time I talked to them, I could tell they were searching, they were trying to interrogate me," he said. "That's when I said, 'I hope you don't think I'm responsible for this.' They said, 'Well, we have a lot of questions.'"

Arnett remembers Warren's phone calls, a barrage of them.

"He would call frequently, 5:30 or 4:30 in the morning, drunk and saying: 'You've got to believe me. I didn't kill Bonnie.' We didn't sleep too well that year," she said. "Finally, he said to Bob, 'I want you to meet me and bring your gun, and if you can't look me in the eye and know that I didn't kill Bonnie, I want you to shoot me."

Bob Arnett did meet with his son-in-law but left his gun at home.

They parted ways with Bonnie's father still convinced that Warren had murdered his daughter.

It was their last conversation.

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655

Twitter: @deannaboyd

Coming Monday: A family's quest for justice doesn't stop at the district attorney's door.

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