Suicide or murder?: A Fort Worth family's quest for justice takes an unusual turn

Posted Monday, Oct. 08, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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About the series

Sunday: Suicide or murder: Who killed Fort Worth lawyer Bonnie Horinek?

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

Tuesday: A last gasp at freedom: Warren Horinek hopes blood will tell.

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Second of three parts

Veteran Fort Worth police Detective J.D. Roberts was convinced that Warren Horinek, a former Fort Worth officer, fatally shot his wife one night in the bedroom of their west-side home.

The next step was to hand the case to the Tarrant County district attorney's office and wait for the murder charge to be filed.

Unfortunately for Roberts, Assistant District Attorney Mike Parrish didn't see it that way. The case appeared to him to be a suicide, just as Warren had said.

"What he was looking for was a confession," Roberts said, recalling those frustrating days after the 1995 death of Bonnie Horinek, a Fort Worth attorney. "It was difficult to get a case accepted unless it was a sure-fire cinch to get a conviction."

Parrish's decision not to take the case kicked off a chain of events, pushed at every turn by Bonnie's family, that sent Warren to prison for 30 years.

Because Texas law allows any "credible person" to take a case to a grand jury, the Arnetts and their private attorney, Mike Ware, pursued Warren with no help from Tarrant County's public officials.

In fact, to this day, even as Warren sits in the Cuero unit of the Texas prison system, many of those now-former officials continue to believe that he is innocent.

"To tell you the truth, what little I knew of Warren Horinek is, he was a drunk jerk who had no business in being a Fort Worth police officer," said Sgt. Paul Kratz, who supervised Roberts in the Fort Worth homicide unit when Bonnie was killed. "But I firmly believe he did not kill his wife. I'm absolutely convinced and have been from the first time I reviewed the evidence of the case.

"Nothing has ever changed my mind."

Kratz was out of town when Bonnie died, but he said he thoroughly reviewed the evidence and discussed the case at length with representatives of the district attorney and the medical examiner.

"We were all convinced there was no way you can prove murder," Kratz said.

Parrish did not return repeated messages seeking comment for this report. But in documents filed in court, he says he did not seek an indictment because evidence indicated that Bonnie shot herself. He cites the medical examiner's ruling, the opinion of an outside expert, the 911 call and a polygraph test taken by Warren.

"While suicide is difficult to accept in any situation, I sincerely believe this is what happened in this case," Parrish wrote.

But Roberts, like Bonnie's family, would not give up. After retiring from the department in August 1995, about five months after Bonnie's death, he continued working on the case with her parents.

Because he had not been at the scene that night, Kratz should have had no input, Roberts said recently.

"He should keep his mouth shut."

"She was not going to kill herself"

Bob and Barbara Arnett, parents of a lawyer, knew that the district attorney's office wasn't their only option.

They also knew that enough key people believed that their daughter did not commit suicide.

"We just knew that this couldn't be allowed," Barbara Arnett said. "She was killed and he will be punished."

They hired their own investigator, former FBI agent Clint Brown, and enlisted private attorney Mike Ware, who had once clerked for the same judge as Bonnie.

"The evidence seemed very strong that it was, in fact, a homicide," Ware recalled. "It seemed incredible to me [that] it wasn't going to at least be presented to the grand jury."

On March 4, 1996, almost a year after Bonnie's death, Ware took the unusual step of taking the case to the grand jury himself in an attempt to get Warren indicted.

"I didn't know him, but everything I knew about Bonnie, I could not see her taking her own life," Ware said. "The events leading up to this just screamed, 'This is a physical abuser whose physical abuse is escalating to the point of homicide.'"

Roberts, among others, testified before the grand jury.

"I feel like I've got to speak for the girl because nobody else was," Roberts recalls telling the panel. "I've got to do that for her family."

He explained that although police believed they had enough to go to a grand jury, district attorney's officials said an indictment would be impossible because the medical examiner's office had ruled the matter of Bonnie's death to be "undetermined."

But Bonnie "is planning on going on with her life," Roberts says he told grand jurors. "She was not going to kill herself.

"She wouldn't have been making plans for the next day or the next day or the next day. She had been upbeat. There was no reason ... she should have taken her life."Members of the medical examiner's office, including Chief Medical Examiner Nizam Peerwani, Dr. Gary Sisler and Ron Singer, also testified, according to a transcript of the proceedings.

Peerwani's gut feeling, he told grand jurors, was that Bonnie died by suicide, but there was not enough evidence for him to make a ruling.

Sisler testified that though the evidence implied suicide, the lack of suicidal tendencies and a note required that the ruling be undetermined.

Although gunpowder residue tests on Bonnie's and Warren's hands were inconclusive, a test firing of the gun and ammunition used in the shooting found that it was a relatively clean-burning weapon that left little residue, he testified.

On March 26, the grand jury returned its decision. Warren Horninek was indicted on a murder charge.

"I was shocked," Kratz said. "I thought it was the beginning of a huge miscarriage of justice and a misuse of the system, frankly."

Even Ware acknowledges being a little surprised.

"The district attorney has such absolute control over the grand jury, and I knew they were going to get the last word," he said.

Warren was stunned beyond belief.

"I'm like, 'What are these people thinking?' I guess evidence and our elected officials don't matter," he recalled during a recent interview from prison.

Still, Warren prepared for trial confident that he would be acquitted.

"Attorney Lance Evans told me, 'This is all just to make you sweat,'" he said. "'This is all just to run you through the wringer. They know they can't convict you.'"

An expert's testimony turns the tide

Even with the indictment, the district attorney's office still declined to prosecute the case.

Attorneys George Gallagher and David Lobingier, who were in private practice, were appointed special prosecutors.

Lobingier had met Bonnie when she was a TCU student, and she had worked as a clerk at his law firm. They did not socialize, but he considered her a friend and later sent a case or two her way after she began working in employment law.

"She was nice and pleasant. She had a sharp, dry wit," recalled Lobingier, now a member of the district attorney's office.

During the weeklong trial, jurors heard testimony about Warren's transgressions with guns. Several of Bonnie's colleagues and friends, as well as a psychiatrist who had conducted a suicide profile, testified that the well-respected attorney was not the type of person who would kill herself and that she had made plans for the days after her death.

Bonnie's co-worker Jay Rutherford described an encounter at an office bowling party when while discussing a criminal case in the news, Warren had bragged that as a police officer, he could get away with murder.

The defense called five witnesses: Parrish, Kratz, crime scene investigator Jim Varnon, crime scene officer Lori Scheiern and forensic consultant Max Courtney.

Courtney described an incident when Warren fired over his wife's head, testifying that the gun had been held close to the wall and at an upward angle, indicating that he was not trying to shoot her.

He also testified that blood-spatter evidence found in the room indicated that Bonnie had shot herself.

"I think we proved it was a suicide," Courtney said in a recent interview. "Personally, there wasn't any question in my mind."

But it was the words of state rebuttal witness Tom Bevel, a blood-spatter expert and the last witness to testify, that had the biggest impact, one juror later told the Star-Telegram.

Bevel testified that droplets on Warren's shirt had sprayed from Bonnie's body as the bullet entered her chest, contradicting Warren's account that he was not in the room when his wife was shot.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Greg Westfall tried unsuccessfully to get Bevel to acknowledge that the high-velocity blood could have stained Warren's shirt as he bent over his wife and adminstered CPR.

Courtney said several things in Bevel's testimony were factually incorrect, including the size and number of bloodstains on Warren's shirt.

"He's wrong in saying they could only get there by back spatter," Courtney said. "Jim Varnon did several experiments and also has a case history, where he had similar bloodstain spatters where no one was shot. The stains on the gun, the stains on her hands, it's just not consistent with homicide."

"Horrible miscarriage of justice"

After about five hours of deliberation, the jury returned its verdict: guilty.

"As hard as we try, we know that our system of justice does not always render correct decisions," said Evans, one of Warren's attorneys. "Unfortunately, Warren Horinek is living proof of that.

"The verdict in this case was and remains a horrible miscarriage of justice."

During the sentencing phase, prosecutors presented a single witness: Warren's ex-fiance, who described how he once pointed a gun at her head after watching her hug a male friend at a Fort Worth bar.

Defense attorneys called friends of Warren's, who testified that the Horineks appeared to have a good relationship and that they had never seen Warren show violence toward his wife.

Several said Warren was depressed and despondent at the loss of Bonnie.

Warren was sentenced to 30 years. It wasn't the maximum, but it was enough for Barbara Arnett.

"After spending a whole year of knowing that Warren was living in the house, Warren was using her credit cards, Warren had killed her and he was free and she was dead and she was buried, for Christ's sake, I was satisfied," Arnett said.

"I wished for a life sentence, but I was just thrilled that we had gotten a conviction and 30 years."

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655

Twitter: @deannaboyd

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