A Baytown man was sentenced to 60 years in prison on the eve of trial after pleading guilty to murder for robbing and killing a 65-year-old man who used a wheelchair, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced.
“It is important to remember that our elderly and disabled neighbors are vulnerable to scams, schemes and violence,” Ogg said. “This kind and generous man was killed by people who took advantage of him just because they could.”
Marcus Donnell Gilbert, 41, was scheduled to begin trial this week, but instead he pleaded guilty on Friday to murder in the death of John Henry Fernandez, who was found on Jan. 2, 2018. His hands and feet had been bound and his mouth had been taped shut. He had suffocated.
Gilbert, who was known as Skunk, and his girlfriend had moved into Fernandez’s Baytown apartment more than a month earlier. Fernandez, who was known throughout the apartment complex as a gentle, grandfatherly type, did not have family in the area and needed help.
Gilbert’s girlfriend agreed to provide that help in exchange for a place to live. Instead of helping, she allowed her boyfriend to routinely visit, culminating in the planned robbery and killing of Fernandez on Christmas Day 2017.
After concerned neighbors alerted apartment management, maintenance workers found Fernandez’s body locked inside his bedroom. Investigators tracked down Gilbert and his girlfriend and learned they had taken Fernandez’s television, ATM card and cellphone.
Gilbert told police that his girlfriend had killed Fernandez and tied him up after he was dead.
The girlfriend, whose murder case is still pending, told police that Gilbert beat, kicked and tied up Fernandez, killing him by stuffing a bedwetting pad in his mouth and using duct tape to close his mouth and eyes. She said they watched Fernandez die and left with the television and other belongings.
Both were arrested by the Baytown Police Department and charged with capital murder. Gilbert was facing life in prison without parole, so he pleaded guilty to murder in exchange for 60 years in prison. He must serve at least 30 years before he is eligible for parole. He cannot appeal the conviction or the sentence.
Assistant District Attorney Chris Handley, a chief in the Trial Bureau of the DA’s Office, handled the case with Nancy Ta, a prosecutor in the DA’s Homicide Division.
Ta said authorities found Fernandez’s body because he was known for sitting on his porch and talking to everyone.
“The neighbors were concerned because they hadn’t seen him in a while,” she said. “They thought he might have died of natural causes, but the reality was too horrific to imagine.”
Handley noted Gilbert has had time to think about his actions while awaiting trial and perhaps finally decided to take responsibility.
“They hatched the plan on Christmas Eve and killed him on Christmas Day,” Handley said. “At the end of the day, he knew the cruelty of what they did. I think he finally came to terms with the sobering reality of the justice that would be served.”
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