A Waco man convicted Thursday in the slayings of two cousins at a North Waco apartment in 2014 will spend the rest of his life in prison.
A jury of 10 women and two men deliberated five hours Thursday before convicting Tony Olivarez of capital murder in the May 2014 shooting deaths of cousins Justin Gonzalez and Ulysses Gonzalez at the Pecan Tree Apartments, 2600 Grim Ave.
Prosecutors Robert Moody, Evan O’Donnell and Nelson Barnes waived the death penalty in the case, so Olivarez was sentenced to an automatic life prison term with no hope for parole.
Olivarez showed no emotion at the verdict, but his family members and those of the victims who packed 54th State District Court on Thursday wept quietly.
Todric McDonald, Olivarez’s co-defendant, was convicted in February and is serving life without parole.
After Judge Matt Johnson sentenced Olivarez, six family members of the Gonzalez cousins gave victim-impact statements in which each one said they forgive Olivarez.
Justin Gonzalez’s mother told Olivarez her son had two young children and his girlfriend was pregnant with his third child at the time of his death. Now they will grow up without a father, she said.
“Tony, I forgive you, but whether you know it or not, my life was forever changed on that day, it changed forever, forever, forever,” she said.
Justin Gonzalez’s brother said the last time he saw Justin, he was about to leave town and Justin asked him to wait a bit so he could say goodbye.
“If I knew that was the last time my brother would be there to give me a hug and a kiss, I would have never left,” he said. “Now, he is my guardian angel.”
Ulysses Gonzalez’s aunt told Olivarez that he is going to hear the cousins begging for their lives for the rest of his life.
Witnesses testified that Justin Gonzalez was dealing methamphetamine and cocaine out of one of the apartments with the permission of the woman who was living there. The woman said two men, one whom she identified as Olivarez, came to the apartment around 4:30 a.m., brandished weapons and killed the two cousins.
The woman said Olivarez stuck a gun in her face, cursed her and told her to stay down. She said she hid her face in the sofa and did not see who fired the fatal shots. However, prosecutors established that Olivarez was at the apartment and he could have been convicted as a party to the murders. They also introduced evidence showing guns of different calibers were used in the shootings.
Barnes said he was pleased with the verdict.
“It is a culmination of a whole lot of hard work,” Barnes said. “It all starts with law enforcement, from the folks who went forward and put this case together, from the folks at Waco PD, from the folks at the crime lab, and everybody who was part of this.
“I want to thank the staff here. Robbie and Evan did a tremendous job getting this case ready to go to trial, did a tremendous job presenting it to the jury and, obviously, we got the verdict we were expecting to get.”
O’Donnell told the jury in summations that Olivarez and McDonald were close friends and crime associates who were involved in a shootout after an attempted theft of a firearm just five hours before the double murders. He said Olivarez could have made a number of different decisions in the days before and after the murders that would have taken him out of McDonald’s swath of crime.
“I am pleased for the family, that they were able to close this chapter,” O’Donnell said. “They are very good people who have been very supportive of us all the way through. Hopefully, this verdict brings them some closure.”
Waco attorney Russ Hunt, who defended Olivarez with his son, Russ Hunt Jr., called the case “an unfortunate situation.”
“We are disappointed with the verdict, but we certainly respect the jury’s verdict,” he said.
The elder Hunt challenged the woman’s identification of Olivarez as one of the gunmen, saying she had been high and was up for two days straight and mistakenly told police that the man she eventually identified as Olivarez had a teardrop tattoo near his eye.
Olivarez does not have a tattoo near his eye, but McDonald does. Hunt also said McDonald has a tattoo on his chest of a shadowy figure holding a pistol in each hand, suggesting that McDonald shot both the men with two different calibers of guns.
He also questioned the manner in which the police photo array in the case was handled, saying it was improperly suggestive and led to the woman selecting Olivarez.
Moody told jurors in summations that Hunt’s speculative theories and defense were built on “a wing and a prayer.”
“Don’t check your common sense at the door,” Moody said. “The evidence in this case all fits like a big puzzle.”
Moody said the women at the apartment when the men were killed were traumatized by the event. One was so scared for her life that she jumped from a second-floor balcony when Olivarez and McDonald returned to the apartment in what Moody said was an attempt to eliminate the two witnesses they left behind.
The women locked the door, and McDonald shot the door and lock, jamming it closed.
“This is all because of you,” Moody said, pointing at Olivarez. “You stole those boys from their families. You stole those boys’ lives.”