Saturday, October 29, 2011

Jurors opted for intention and not negligence

Killer of 'Young Marine' calls murder accidental

Waco – S.J. Guthrie Park is a groove in the ground lined with concrete, an attractive accent to an inner city neighborhood of well-kept homes that closely resembles a sun-splashed suburban setting.

The creek branch cuts across the streets at an oblique, shaded by native oak and pecan, hackberry and ash. The trimmed lawn and transplanted ficus trees are encircled by broad foot paths.

A painted wooden signpost points the way to an arched masonry pavilion with an interesting star-shaped roof pattern of four ridges and four valleys, an elaborate jungle gym, barbecue pits – all the amenities of a beautiful pocket park – proudly heralded by neatly lettered slats that show a visitor the way to each element of the setting.

That's how things look by day.

At night, according to a local resident out for a walk with his two little girls who were riding their bicycles - a man wearing a camouflaged golf cap embroidered with the words “Vietnam Veteran” and the service ribbons associated with that conflict - at night drug sellers and their prey, the addicts, come looking to peddle their deadly wares, make scores and meet up for business. They park along the curb on E. Edmond Ave.

Asked if this is the kind of place where high school boys come to fight, he shrugs, points with his chin at a parked car where a man and woman sit nervously, hypervigilant, watching, and says, “No, not really. You see them come down here and park over there – kind of late in the evening. That's when they sell the dope. All around here.” He gestures with his shoulders, his eyes, indicating the entire neighborhood.

Suddenly, the man and woman in the car parked at the curb crank the engine, get the vehicle underway, and leave in a hurry. Earlier, they had asked about the camera.

“You gonna take pictures of us?” the woman asked. Told no, the mission was to photograph the park, the crime scene, in an attempt to try to come up with as accurate a picture of the place as possible, she asked “How come? You an investigator?”

No, I said, I am a journalist. When I handed her my card, she asked, nervously, “What's this?”

“It's my 'Are you gonna be okay card,'” I said.

“What's this mean?” she asked, meaning the card.

It means it's my calling card and I use it to find out if you're gonna be okay, I answered. She tried to hand it back, but I made no move to take it from her.

The man, who was at the steering wheel, said, “I don't know what it means,” when she tried to hand it to him. At first, he demurred, then he tucked the card in the center console.

“What does Legendary mean?” the woman asked, her tone bordering on belligerence.

It doesn't mean anything if you don't signify anything by it, I replied.

Okay. After dark, it's all Indian country when it comes to S.J. Guthrie Park. Roger that. Understood. We read that five by five.

This is where two carloads of kids showed up on March 7, kind of late in the evening, to rumble about – something or the other.

One boy died. A 9 mm bullet pierced the right parietal region of his skull. He was covering his mother's body with his own as five bullets shattered the driver's side window and door of the vehicle.

Nathan Romo, 17, was a football player at Lorena High School, a Young Marine, part of an organization chartered by the Marine Corps League to keep kids from 8 to high school age interested in “academic achievement and the history and traditions of the United States and the U.S. Marine Corps.”

Three stated core values are “leadership, discipline and teamwork,” according to a website devoted to the subject.

Chartered in 1965, the Young Marines got recognition in the “Recruiting, Retention and Reservist Promotion Act of 2000” for providing “significant public relations benefits.”

A stated policy is “To advocate a healthy drug free lifestyle by continual drug prevention education programs.”

Members strive to “Remember that having self-discipline will enable me to control my body and mind in case of an emergency” while learning survival skills such as hiking, scuba diving and rappelling.

So, why did Nathan Romo's body wind up there, in a place like that, kind of late in the evening – against the peace and dignity of the People of the State of Texas?

It sounds very complicated until you stop and consider that there were two adults present when the killing took place, one of whom has been convicted of murder. The other adult present was Nathan Bono's mother, Patricia West, a woman whose driver's license had been revoked and had just gotten off work at an area restaurant.

Nathan used to drive her to and from work. On the way home on that late March evening, they made a stop at the park so Jacob Gutierrez could fight Trey Nino.

Willie Contreras, 29, the convicted murderer, drove his nephew Trey Nino to the park to fight with Jacob Gutierrez.

According to testimony from Kalin Ketcherside, he and Gutierrez had been drinking. He told jurors he heard his drinking buddy arguing with Trey Nino, Willie Contreras' nephew, on the phone. He said he didn't believe they would really fight.

According to Ms. West, the gun fight began after they had been parked, confronting for a few minutes the passengers in the truck driven by Mr. Contreras. That's when they put the truck in gear and the fight started.

As Willie Contreras' truck rolled toward theirs, shots rang out. Her son covered her body with his where they cowered on the floorboards of the car.

According to news reports, she wept while giving her testimony.

Detective Charlotte Matthews advised Willie Contreras of his right to remain silent and that anything he said could be used against him in a court of law.

According to documents he signed and initialed at the Waco Police Department. Mr. Contreras understood that he could have an attorney present and to represent him in court, Det. Matthews testified.

During her questioning, she told the jurors, Mr. Contreras changed his story. At first, he said he had no gun.

Later, he led her and other investigators to the place where he stashed the 9 mm semiautomatic pistol he admitted to firing “About 11 (times) I think. Earlier in their conversation, he had tried to blame the shooting on his nephew, Trey Nino.

He told detectives in a video statement that he held the pistol down as he pulled the trigger.

“...I was shooting like this down, towards the ground...I was at the rear...I wasn't trying to shoot nobody.”

His attorneys made a motion to suppress the statement. They said Det. Matthews obtained his cooperation through deception and trickery by offering him favorable treatment if he would tell her what really happened.

19th Criminal District Criminal Judge Ralph Strother denied the motion.

Judge Strother charged the jurors with the choice of verdicts of either criminally negligent homicide, or murder. Defense attorneys argued that Mr. Contreras acted negligently “with respect to the result of his conduct when he ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur.

“The risk must be of such a nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under all the circumstances as viewed from the actor's standpoint.”

If they had a reasonable doubt that Mr. Contreras acted to “intentionally and knowingly cause the death of an individual, namely, Nathan Romo,” they were instructed to deliver a verdict of criminally negligent homicide, the penalty for which is a term of not less than 6 months or more than 2 years in state jail.

Instead, the jurors found that he acted intentionally and knowingly, and thereby sentenced him to not less than 5 years and up to 99 years or life imprisonment in the penitentiary.

Mr. Contreras consented to an interview with The Legendary, but according to McLennan County Sheriff Larry Lynch, “Interviews are not allowed at the jail.”

Staff at the Jack Harwell Dentention Center have politely refused to file a request to place this writer on the Mr. Contreras' visitors' list before late next month.

Offered the opportunity to answer my questions in writing, Mr. Contreras wrote, “How are you. Well im sorry I can't add you to My visitation until the 20th of next Month and By that time I should be in T.D.C.J. Also I don't know how to read and Write to Well that's Why I Would rather you come and see Me hope to see you soon but if you have other plans please be sure to inform Me.”

In an earlier letter, he wrote, “How are you doing, Well I hope your story does help My case out and benefit Me in My appeal trial because I Was Wrongly convicted My case Was actually an accident so I Would be More than happy to give you a interview so fill free to come see Me anytime.”

Several decades will pass before he is eligible for parole.

None of the pictures attached to this article were taken inside the 19th District Courtroom or inside the McLennan County Courthouse.


  1. Wow. What an incredible young man he must have been. The young marines program is really remarkable. If only all the young people in our country held those kinds of values.

  2. Wow not I knew that kid he would come to my house with trey trey he would be all doped up on pills they call bars him and trey trey would go to eskmo hut n stell that nite it went down his mom could of stop it who in thier rite mind would go to the park to a fight as a mother I wouldn't my son means to much so yea thier more to this story please beleave it..