Page 28


Why were there two gu on the bed with Bonnie Horinek’s body? Why was a pillowcase wrapped tightly around her neck? Why was there so much blood on her husband’s T-shirt? One night in 1992, when he and Bonnie were living together in the Fort Worth suburb of Benbrook before they married, police had been called to the house after neighbors heard gunshots. It turned out that Horinek had gotten drunk and was firing into the pool. The following year, after another night of drinking, Horinek fired a gun over Bonnie’s head while she lay in bed. The bullet entered the wall a foot-and-a-half above her pillow. Explanations for this event vary. At trial, the prosecution contended Horinek did it to frighten his wifepart of a pattern of abuse. Horinek, interviewed recently by the Observer, calls the incident “inexcusable.” He says Bonnie had been playfully ignoring him, hiding her head under her pillow. “I’m not listening to you,” he says his wife was saying. “Stupidly,” he saysas a joke and to startle herhe fired the gun into the wall. He contends that he didn’t shoot at Bonnie, that the nose of the gun was pressed against the wall and tilted upward when he fired it. \(A private forensic expert hired for the defense, Max Courtney, testified that he found evidence to verify Horinek’s claim. Courtney said he found gunpowder traces on the wall, which would have happened only if Horinek had pressed the weapon against the wall That wasn’t the end of Horinek’s suspicious behavior. Later in 1993, his drinking cost him his job with the police. The day he was forced to resign, he got drunk, shut himself in a room and threatened suicide, according to court testimony. Bonnie called the police. Officers arrived and calmed Horinek down. Police regulations required that he be taken for a psych evaluation at the emergency room. As Horinek was led away, several officers would testify at trial, he shouted to Bonnie that he would make her pay for doing this to him. With these snapshots of Horinek in hand, the Arnetts and their attorney, Mike Ware, decided to circumvent the district attorney’s office. Ware knew about a rarely used quirk in Texas law that allows any concerned person to bring evidence before a grand jury. While there was little physical evidence of murder, the grand jury found Ware’s presentation convincing. In March 1996, a year after Bonnie’s death, Horinek was indicted for murder. The Tarrant County district attorney’s office refused to act on the indictment. It’s not often that a Texas prosecutor refuses to go after an indicted defendant. But Assistant DA Parrish wouldn’t do it. “Ethically, if you don’t believe they’re guilty, then you can’t prosecute,” he says. With the DA’s office recusing itself from the case, the judge assigned two attorneys in private practice to serve as special prosecutors. That led to an upside-down trial in which nearly everyone trying to convict Horinek was in private practiceprivate attorneys serving as prosecutors, using private forensic experts and private psychologists. Meanwhile, the agents of the statethe district attorney, crime scene investigator, and homicide sergeant were all siding with the defendant. In 27 years at the Tarrant County DA’s office, Parrish had never seen such a bizarre caseand never did again. Nobody had. From the start, Horinek says his lawyer assured him there was nothing to worry about. He figured it wouldn’t even reach a grand jury. “Even the DA believes you’re innocent,” his attorney said. After Horinek was indicted anyway, his lawyer predicted the case would never come to trial; the county didn’t want to prosecute him. Once he went to trial, Horinek was again reassured: He could never be convicted. There was no evidence. As bad as the private prosecutors would make Horinek sound, as compelling as the anecdotes of drunken gunplay were, that was all circumstantial evidenceincidents that occurred months or years before Bonnie’s death. You can’t be convicted of murder for being an obnoxious drunk or an abusive husband. For most of his trial, Horinek’s attorney seemed prescient. The jury appeared to be convinced of his innocence. Later, when this anything-but-textbook trial was over, the foreman would say that the jurors were going to acquit Horinek. That was before the prosecution’s final witness took the stand. This case, like hundreds of others, was decided by the testimony of a single forensic expert. HIS NAME IS TOM BEVEL. He’s a private, Oklahomabased expert in bloodstain patterns. The study of blood spatter has been around since the 1890s. But unlike other forensic evidenceDNA or fingerprinting, for exampleblood spatter evidence rarely provides the sole basis for prosecution. Blood patternslike those found on Warren Horinek’s Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt that night in 1995can be used to augment evidence in a criminal case, but they’re rarely the only evidence. The reason is simple: Bloodstains can tell you only so much about who committed a crime, or how. Some experts, Bevel included, have tried to use blood-spatter forensics to reconstruct where blood came from and by what method. If that sounds fantastical, it sometimes is. In recent years, flawed blood-spatter evidence has led to at least three wrongful convictions across the country, from North Carolina to Indiana. In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences released findings from the most extensive study ever conducted of forensic evidence in American courtrooms. The authors didn’t think much of blood-spatter analysis, writing that the “uncertainties associated with bloodstain pattern analysis are enormous,” and concluding that the opinions ofblood-spatter experts like Bevel are “more subjective than scientific.” In that respect, bloodstain analysis is similar to other kinds of forensic science. With the exception of DNA testing, much of the forensic evidence used in U.S. courtsincluding fingerprint matches, ballistics, and arson evidenceis based on junk science. CSI it ain’t. Contrary to what’s portrayed on television, bullets are regularly matched to the wrong gun, fingerprints are misidentified, crime labs botch their analysis, and accidental fires are misread as arson. Most criminal justice experts believe that flawed forensic evidenceand overreaching expert witnesses have sent thousands of Americans to prison for crimes they didn’t commit. The solution is to ensure that forensic testimony is based on sound science. Reconstructing how blood flies through the air is obviously dicey business. The science academy recommends that anyone attempting to analyze blood patterns have an advanced physics, and the pathology of wounds. Bevel, whose testimony sent Warren Horinek to prison, has no such advanced degrees, Though he has taken professional courses in these subjects, he has little background in science. He spent nearly three decades in the Oklahoma City Police Department and developed an interest in blood spatter. He began READ the National Academy of Sciences report on forensics at tdo.cominas AUGUST 20, 2010 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19