Justice Served? The Complex Verdict in the Case of a Murdered Honduran Immigrant

BREAKING: HOUSTON, TX— In a perplexing decision by a Houston jury, companies owned by state Rep. Gary Gates (R-HD 28) were found negligent in a tragic case involving the murder of a Honduran immigrant. The jury awarded $3.5 million to the survivors. 

Presiding judge Michael Gomez (D- Harris County 129th District Court) ruled that Gatesco Inc. and APTMC LLC, operating as Magnolia Cove Apartments, were negligent on premises liability and wrongful death claims.

The case stemmed from the 2016 murder of Melvin Enrique Bonilla, who was fatally shot while attempting to escape assailants in an armed robbery at the apartment complex’s parking lot.

Rep. Gates voiced his intention to appeal the ruling. He argued that the blame should rest solely on the perpetrators of the crime, and that it should not be attributed to the management of his apartment complex. 

“The four men that murdered the person on my property were in the midst of a 48-hour crime spree that included 40 crimes, including the murder of an innocent four-year-old girl just a day earlier. This would have happened anywhere,” Gates emphasized.

“The fact that the judge instructed the jury that they could not deliberate on the four criminals should show anyone willing to pay attention to the evidence that this was purely a political attack against people who do not share [the] political ideology of the liberal judges who populate nearly all the courts in Harris County.”

Nearly eight years ago, Bonilla was fatally shot in the back of the head and then robbed by four violent criminals who were in the midst of a brutal crime spree, which included multiple robberies, multiple murders and the tragic killing of a four-year-old girl while her mother was robbed. 

“On Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, Melvin Bonilla-Fuente returned home to his apartment… and parked his vehicle in the parking lot. As Melvin was exiting his vehicle, a red Nissan Altima with four suspects drove up behind his vehicle,” the police report said.

“Two of the males exited the red Nissan Altima and attempted to rob Melvin at gunpoint. A male tenant from a neighboring complex looked out his window due to the commotion. The male tenant attempted to scare the suspects away at which time one of the suspects pointed a gun at him.”

“Melvin attempted to run away at which time he was shot multiple times by the male who had pointed the gun at the male tenant. The suspect fled the scene.”

At around 10 p.m. on the night of Bonilla’s murder, Bonilla and his brother arrived in the parking lot of their apartment at Magnolia Cove. Bonilla was dropping his brother off and picking up his work materials when the brothers were confronted by the four criminals.

Two of the criminals jumped out of the red Nissan Altima, while the other two remained in a different getaway car, aiming their guns at Bonilla. After the across-the-street bystander heard the attempted robbery and tried to distract the robbers, one of the assailants pointed his gun at the bystander’s window. This provided Bonilla’s brother with the opening to successfully flee the scene, but when Bonilla attempted to flee, he was fatally shot and subsequently robbed.

Two of the criminals—Ferrel Dardar and Phillip Battles—were indicted for the murder of Bonilla. In a separate case, Dardar pleaded guilty to the murder of the four-year-old girl and received a 60-year sentence. Battles opted to stand trial for the murder. He was found guilty by the jury and received a life sentence in prison.

However, when the Bonilla case was tried, the court submitted jury questions to determine the responsible party or parties for the murder and robbery— but the court did not permit the jury to assign any responsibility for the crime to the criminals. 

“It was unfortunate how this court, a few minutes before it went to the jury room, removed the four criminals as a responsible party,” Gates said.

Instead, jurors were presented testimony that the assailants were able to drive into Magnolia Cove because the entry gate was broken and had been for years.

The defendants were accused of neglecting appropriate security measures in the “face of foreseeable risks at Magnolia Cove Apartments,” including not fixing the parking garage gate and not hiring on-site security, even though the neighborhood was in a high-crime neighborhood.

The defense team, led by lead counsel Thomas C. Sanders, was supported by retired Houston Police Department detective Phil Waters, who offered expert testimony that the assailants were intent on targeting undocumented immigrants like Bonilla, and thus would not have been deterred by a working gate.  

Adding layers to the case, concerns have been raised about potential biases within the judicial process. Notably, lead plaintiff attorney Mike P. Doyle of the Doyle Dennis firm in Houston also serves as the Harris County Democratic Party Chairman, prompting speculation about the influence of political affiliations.

Additionally, the presiding Democratic judge has been scrutinized for potential bias against Gates, who is a Republican state representative.

“We can no longer tolerate the weaponization of the courts in Harris County. No wonder the citizens of Harris County have lost faith in their government,” Gates said. “We feel confident that this injustice will be overturned on appeal.”

Gates joins the long list of names of Harris County Republicans who believe that the progressive judges across the county stack kangaroo courts against them, predetermining case outcomes before evidence is even presented.

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