Suicide or murder? Group works to free former Fort Worth cop convicted of killing his wife

Posted Tuesday, Oct. 09, 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.

Remembering Bonnie

After their daughter's death, Barbara and Bob Arnett donated to The Women's Haven shelter in Fort Worth and The Women's Shelter in Arlington and later worked at a women's shelter in North Padre Island, where they had moved after retiring. Her husband now deceased, Barbara Arnett has relocated to North Texas.

After Bonnie's death, two scholarships were set up in her memory, one for pre-law students at TCU and the other for law school students at the University of Texas at Austin. To date, 75 students have received scholarships, Arnett said.

"That's something good that has come out of something very, very terrible," she said.

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Last of a three parts

The letter was one of several written by Warren Horinek from his new home behind bars.

It had been almost 17 months since a Tarrant County jury had convicted him of murdering his wife, Bonnie, and sentenced him to 30 years in prison.

And it had been almost 15 months since a judge had rejected the first shot at a new trial for the former Fort Worth police officer.

In the letter, dated Jan. 27, 1999, Warren requested the help of Fort Worth crime scene officer Jim Varnon in a matter "which I hope and pray never arises."

He asked Varnon to write a letter summarizing the crime scene officer's beliefs about the case in the event that Warren is never awarded a new trial.

"I will have to rely on the parole process for my release thirteen years from now," Horinek wrote. "I intend to have these letters put in my parole file so that they will help in making parole on the first eligibility."

Varnon did more than a write a letter.

The crime scene officer began gathering trial transcripts and evidence and put together a presentation that he shared with anyone who would listen. He also enlisted the help of forensic experts in an attempt to free a man he insists is innocent.

"Good or bad, we should never be afraid of the truth," Varnon said in a recent interview with the Star-Telegram. "Sometimes the truth is unpopular and sometimes the truth is ugly, but we should never avoid the truth."

Today, Warren and Varnon wait to hear whether a Tarrant County judge will agree that the evidence proves Warren is innocent and recommend throwing out the conviction.

Blood in dispute

Warren was convicted in August 1996 of shooting and killing his wife in their west Fort Worth home after a night of drinking.

In his corner, Warren has blood-spatter experts who dispute the accuracy of testimony given during the trial by state's witness Tom Bevel.

Bevel, a retired Oklahoma City police captain who runs a forensic education and consulting company, testified that small drops of blood found on Warren's shirt sprayed from Bonnie's body as the bullet entered her chest.

His testimony contradicted Warren's account that he was not in the room when his wife was shot.

A juror would tell the Star-Telegram after the trial that it was Bevel's testimony that persuaded many on the panel to find Warren guilty.

Warren's appellate attorneys would argue, unsuccessfully, for a new trial, alleging that Bevel provided jurors with inaccurate information about the amount and size of the blood spatter on the shirt.

Convinced that Bevel's testimony was wrong, Varnon took his evidence to Corning, N.Y., to present to Dr. Herb McDonnell, considered one of the nation's most renowned experts in blood spatter, or the analysis of blood patterns left at crime scenes.

In 2005, McDonnell asked a colleague, Anita Zannin, to review the case.

Zannin, an independent forensic consultant, examined evidence from the case, and said while the small size, shape and distribution of the blood drops can be typical of back spatter from a gunshot, she believes Bonnie's nightgown likely blocked such spatter when the shot was fired.

She believes "very strongly" that, instead, the back spatter was likely created when Warren performed CPR on his wife.

To test her hypothesis, Zannin re-created the shooting to see if back spatter would land on the shooter's left shoulder, the position of the blood on Warren's shirt.

Using two female torsos created by a sculptor, Zannin placed a pig's heart filled with human blood in a hollowed-out space between the breasts, which she covered with a sheep sternum and latex skin. She then had a man approximately Warren's size fire the same kind of gun and ammunition at the torsos, which she had covered with a nightgown like the one Bonnie had worn.

The nightgown, she said, prevented back spatter from reaching the shooter's shirt.

David Lobingier, one of the special prosecutors who obtained Warren's conviction, dismissed Zannin's demonstration as inaccurate.

"The experiment they conducted wasn't anywhere close to what the facts were," he said.

Expertise questioned

Zannin testified about her experiments during a hearing late last year.

The hearing was called after Waco attorney Walter Reaves Jr. filed a motion in an attempt to get Warren's conviction overturned.

"I believe that the jury didn't have proper information with which to make a decision, and I believe that the outcome would have been very different if they had," Zannin said.

In his motion, Reaves points to a 2009 report by the National Academy of Sciences, which noted that "uncertainties associated with blood-stain pattern analysis are enormous."

"It is science, but it's administered in a lot of cases by people who have absolutely no grasp or concept of the scientific theories behind it," he said.

Reaves argues that Bevel wasn't qualified to testify as an expert by today's standards and that Zannin's studies prove the blood on Warren's clothes came from CPR efforts.

"The bottom line is that Mr. Bevel was not qualified to provide a scientific explanation of what he observed," Reaves argues in the motion. "Yet he did exactly that."

Bevel acknowledged that he does not have a formal science degree but said he studied in forensic labs in Great Britain and the U.S. and has been accepted to testify as an expert numerous times because of his ability to explain the scientific method.

Bevel said he has examined other evidence in the case since the trial, including Zannin's report, none of which has changed his initial opinion.

"... Going back over this, I don't believe that I am in error on my original testimony and opinion," Bevel said.

Some who believe that Warren is guilty say Reaves and others are placing too much weight on the blood-spatter evidence.

"They want to reduce the case just to that. You've got to look at the whole suspicious circumstances," said attorney Richard Roper, who was appointed to represent the state in last year's hearing. "... You piece it together and see if it fits like a jigsaw puzzle, and the jury did."

Lobingier points to other evidence against Warren, including that the hammer on the .38-caliber revolver used in the shooting had been "bobbed," or filed down, which makes it difficult or impossible to cock the pistol, increasing the force need to pull the trigger. Some female jurors were unable to pull the trigger.

He believes Warren shot Bonnie after she told him of her plans to leave him, then tied a pillowcase around her neck when she didn't immediately die.

"He says, 'Uh oh. She's not dead' because she's laying there ... and he wants to make sure she's dead so she doesn't tell the police that he shot her."At his prison unit in Cuero, Warren passes his days working in the maintenance department.

Warren describes life in prison as harsh. He is encircled by a sea of white prison jumpsuits, gray guard uniforms and bluish gray walls.

"The only keepsakes I was allowed to have when I came in were pictures," he said. "I have a favorite of Bonnie and I on vacation and a ring Bonnie gave me for our first anniversary. I wear it as a wedding ring.."

He was rejected for parole at his first hearing.

If his conviction is not overturned, he will have to wait until October 2014 to appear before the parole board again.

Though he is steadfast in proclaiming his innocence, Warren said he is not without fault.

"I was not a perfect husband, probably not even a good one," he said. "And although I wasn't the wife beater that some of the media articles insinuated, I was self-centered, insensitive, an alcoholic -- and could be an obnoxious one at that -- and took my marriage and Bonnie's good nature for granted."

Warren said that when he takes into account all the statements after Bonnie's death, including that she was thinking about leaving him and worried about another failed marriage, he can blame himself for her death.

"I can't be upset with Bonnie; only myself."

Bonnie's mother, Barbara Arnett, who pushed so hard to get Warren before a jury, doesn't dwell on her former son-in-law's efforts to get his conviction overturned.

"I learned long ago, if I can't do anything, worrying isn't going to help," she said. "You just have to trust what should be will be."

Deanna Boyd, 817-390-7655

Twitter: @deannaboyd

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