A 28-year-old Houston man and known Irish Traveller has pleaded guilty to conspiring to murder a housekeeper found fatally stabbed inside a Colleyville home where she worked, court records show.
Bernard “Little Joe” Gorman had been accused, along with his father, of stalking and killing Anita Fox on Sept. 23, 2014, in hopes of collecting on a $1 million insurance policy that authorities suspect she didn’t know existed.
His father, Gerard “Joe” Gorman, died of natural causes before he could be arrested in the case.
On Monday, Gorman, who had been charged with murder in the case, pleaded guilty to a lesser included count of conspiracy to commit murder, a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Under the plea, he will be sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Sentencing before State District Judge George Gallagher has been delayed until Feb. 27 to give Gorman time to get his affairs in order and make arrangements for his family.
Gorman, a member of the nomadic ethnic group known as Irish Travellers, remains free on bond until his sentencing. He must wear a GPS monitor and get permission before leaving the county as part of his ongoing bond conditions.
Prosecutors did not immediately comment on the plea due to the still pending sentencing..
Steven Rosen, Gorman’s Houston attorney, called the case “a very difficult case on both sides.”
‘This is a sure thing’
Rosen said Gorman had been working since age 7 — common in the world of Travellers — and was focused on caring for his wife and child.
Rosen said he doesn’t believe Gorman had any knowledge that his father was going to kill Fox. Nor, Rosen said, does he even believe that his client’s father killed Fox, citing medical evidence he said he’d collected showing the elder Gorman was in no physical condition to commit such a heinous crime.
Instead, Rosen said, he believes Gorman was simply at “the wrong place at the wrong time.”
But taking the case to trial, Rosen said, presented challenges.
“Once Travellers and Gypsies come out, I’m behind the eight ball,” Rosen said. “Now I’m fighting.”
He called the plea deal “a compromise.”
“Sometimes in life you have to compromise,” Rosen said. “He shouldn’t have been where he was at that time. He’s paying now. He doesn’t want to risk the rest of his life — maybe 30 years or 40 years or maybe even a not guilty. This is a sure thing. He’ll do the time and he’ll have a life.”
Matthew McCarley, an attorney for Anita Fox’s youngest son, Al Fox III, said his client has mixed feelings about the plea deal.
“He’s not cutting cartwheels over it but, at the same time, he’s glad there’s some kind of punishment coming to somebody over this,” McCarley said. “Fourteen years? I know it’s a plea deal and I know he’s not the guy who did the killing, but in our opinion, he had full knowledge of what the Dad was going to do.”
“We believe there are other people involved that haven’t been held accountable yet,” McCarley added.
Life insurance investigation
At the time of Anita Fox’s death, an insurance fraud investigation was already underway into an Irish Travellers community in North Augusta, S.C.
The FBI investigation revealed that Charles Mercier, an insurance agent whose family writes life insurance policies almost exclusively for Travellers, had written five policies on Anita Fox totaling $5 million.
Anita Fox is identified as an English Traveller in federal documents.
Four of those policies listed either Anita Fox’s daughter or son-in-law, Virginia and Mark Buckland, as beneficiaries.
The fifth policy, which officials have said was the catalyst for the slaying, had been changed in July 2013 by Mark Buckland to make Pat Gorman, an Irish Traveller who resided in Virginia, a co-owner of the policy and the new beneficiary.
Gerard “Joe” Gorman is Pat Gorman’s brother.
Mercier told investigators that the change had been made after Mark Buckland called and told him he could not afford the premiums on the Fox policies. Mercier offered to help and arranged for the Gormans to “invest” in the policy, paying Mark Buckland $2,800 a month in exchange for Pat Gorman being named beneficiary on one of the $1 million policies.
Policy proceeds in limbo
The Bucklands civil attorney has claimed that Anita Fox was aware of the insurance policies — and had even suggested their purchase — and had later given her blessing for a third-party to be brought in as investor.
Colleyville police have said Pat Gorman, Joe Gorman and two other relatives all paid a portion of the policy’s premiums with plans to eventually split the proceeds.
They say greed to collect on that policy prompted Joe Gorman and his son to kill Anita Fox. Rosen said the younger Gorman could still face fraud charges in the federal investigation.
After Anita Fox’s death, the Bucklands filed lawsuits against the insurance companies, alleging they had failed to pay out on millions of dollars owed on the policies.
Fox’s youngest son, Al Fox III, later filed to intervene in the suits, arguing that he is the “rightful recipient” of the insurance proceeds as his mother’s nearest relative and alleging that his sister and her husband are “negligently responsible for the death of the insured,” thus prohibiting them by law from receiving the benefits.
The FBI has made their own attempt to civilly seize the money currently being held by the court.
The lawsuits have been consolidated into one Tarrant County case, which remained pending as of Tuesday.