Fernando Gonzalez reportedly gave different stories to investigators in the hours after he shot an acquaintance last August at the front door of his Connell apartment.
On Friday, just as jurors in his murder trial were about to hear one of those recorded statements, Gonzalez decided it was time to set the record straight and admit his recklessness caused the death of John Bounhomsavanh.
Gonzalez, 19, ended his Franklin County Superior Court trial on the first day of testimony. His attorney Larry Stephenson said he was defending himself.
After spending two days picking a jury, attorneys gave opening statements Friday and prosecutors called their first witness. It was as the second witness, sheriff’s Detective Lee Barrow, took the stand to introduce the interview that Gonzalez had an apparent change of heart.
Jurors were taken out of the room and Gonzalez pleaded guilty about an hour later to first-degree manslaughter and possession of a stolen gun.
He was originally charged with second-degree murder.
During the recess, Prosecutor Shawn Sant met with Bounhomsavanh’s relatives and they agreed to the plea, he said.
“They understood the finality this brings versus going to trial, dealing with an appeal, or the possibility of an acquittal or a hung jury,” Sant told the Herald after court. “When considering all of the information and evidence, it was the state’s position that this was a reasonable resolution between the parties.”
Gonzalez has no felony criminal history. He faces seven years and two months to nine years and six months in prison.
Sant said the agreed recommendation is 81/2 years.
Sentencing will be scheduled for a later date so additional Bounhomsavanh family members can attend. In the meantime, Gonzalez remains held on $250,000 bail.
Sant told the Herald they planned to show that Gonzalez and Bounhomsavanh lived together temporarily in Pasco about a week or two before the 32-year-old Pasco man was killed. Gonzalez previously claimed he did not know Bounhomsavanh.
The two men were connected through their drug use, and that’s the reason why Bounhomsavanh, Samelanxay Johnny Vongvilay and Jose Eduardo Carcamo showed up that afternoon at the apartment where Gonzalez had been staying for several months, Sant said.
“Many witnesses indicated that John was there to collect money. It is unknown but suspected that it could be for drug activity,” he said. “There is a disagreement about what exactly took place at that time, because we do not believe it was necessarily a violent-type confrontation at all, but they were persistent to speak with Fernando Gonzalez.”
The trio stayed outside the Connell apartment for at least three hours, banging on the front door and screaming. Shortly after Gonzalez’s roommate left, the door flew open and Gonzalez fired one shot.
Bounhomsavanh was hit in the left shoulder. The .45-caliber bullet hit his ribs, at least one lung and the thoracic vertebrae before exiting out the right shoulder. He died at the hospital.
Jurors on Friday heard recordings of two 911 calls — the first from a panicked Vongvilay and the second from Gonzalez.
Several members of Bounhomsavanh’s family in court cried while the phone call was played.
Gonzalez’s called about five to seven minutes later, saying “I shot somebody and he broke into my house.”
He initially claimed he had grabbed the gun from one of the intruders and they took it back after the shooting, then admitted it was wrapped up and stashed inside a duffel bag in the apartment.
Sant had told jurors there was no apparent damage to the front door, which puts in doubt the claim of forced entry. He later said another resident of the apartment told investigators the door does have a tendency to open up when it is shut, even with the pressure of a canine.
Sant said witnesses reported that Bounhomsavanh and his friends never entered the apartment and that only two people were at the doorstep when the shot was fired. A sawed-off .22-caliber rifle was found in the trunk of their car, and six hollow-point bullets were recovered from Bounhomsavanh’s clothing during his autopsy.
Prosecutors were concerned that jurors could decide the victim might was acting irrationally because of methamphetamine use and believed the men were there to hurt him.
Vongvilay, who goes by “Johnny,” was already a convicted felon when he pleaded guilty in November to second-degree illegal possession of a gun. The 24-year-old is serving a one-year, five-month prison term at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell.
A charge of illegal gun possession against Carcamo, 26, was dismissed because there was no evidence he knew about the rifle, Sant said.