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CNN Explores Warren Horinek Case

Anderson Cooper brings fresh scrutiny to alleged wrongful conviction
by Published on
Photo illustration by Matt Wright-Steel

CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 will air a report tonight on the controversial case of Warren Horinek—a former Fort Worth police officer convicted in 1996 of murdering his wife. Horinek is serving a 30-year sentence in state prison. There is compelling evidence that he’s innocent.

The Observer first reported on the serious flaws in the case against Horinek in August 2010. Our exposé—titled “A Bloody Injustice”—detailed the unusual circumstances that led to Horinek’s conviction.

On March 14, 1995, Warren Horinek called 911, claiming his wife Bonnie had shot herself. When paramedics arrived, they found Bonnie dead. She was lying on the couple’s bed with a gunshot wound to the chest. Warren was frantically administering CPR. On the bed next to Bonnie’s body was a .38 revolver and a shotgun. There was no sign of a break in. Police quickly narrowed the possible scenarios: Either Bonnie had committed suicide or Warren had murdered her. Warren claimed from the beginning that Bonnie had killed herself.

The people normally responsible for prosecuting a murder came to believe that Warren was telling the truth. The crime scene investigator, the homicide sergeant, the medical examiner and the assistant DA assigned to prosecute the case all became convinced that the evidence pointed to suicide.

“I always thought that it was suicide,” Mike Parrish, the prosecutor handling the case, told the Observer last year. “Still do.”

Bonnie’s parents chose to hire a private attorney, who, through a quirk in the law, obtained a grand jury indictment of Horinek. That led to a bizarre trial. Everyone trying to convict Warren was in private practice, and the agents of the state—crime scene investigator, homicide sergeant and assistant DA—all testified for the defense.

It seemed Warren was headed for acquittal until the testimony of the prosecution’s final witness—a blood spatter expert from Oklahoma named Tom Bevel. He testified that the small spots of blood found on Warren’s t-shirt the night of Bonnie’s death were certainly the result of blood spatter form a gunshot. He said the spatter proved Warren had fired a gun the night of the murder.

It was Bevel’s blood spatter testimony that led to Warren’s conviction.

The problem is Bevel may well have been wrong. Several nationally known blood spatter experts have examined the Horinek case and strongly believe the blood spots resulted from Warren administering CPR to Bonnie. They say the key forensic evidence that sent Warren to prison is flawed. (For more details on the blood spatter evidence, read our 2010 story on the Horinek case.)

The Utne Reader and The Daily Beast followed up our reporting on the case. And now CNN will bring what seems a gross injustice to a national audience (the show will air tonight at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. EST).

As the case is gaining wider attention, Walter Reaves, a Waco attorney, is hoping to vacate Horinek’s conviction or win a new trial. Reaves filed a writ of habeas corpus for Horinek in 2010. This fall, there were two hearings on Horinek’s case in Fort Worth at which three forensic experts—including Jim Varnon, the original CSI on the case who has worked to free Horinek for years—testified that overwhelming evidence points to a suicide. It will take at least three months for the judge to make a recommendation on Horinek’s case to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which will decide whether the conviction will stand.

In the meantime, increased media attention on the fate of Warren Horinek can’t hurt.

Dave Mann has been with the Observer since 2003. Before that, he worked as a reporter in Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He thinks border collies are the world’s greatest dogs, and believes in the nourishing powers of pickup basketball.