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Wealthy Doctor Shot At Ranch By Masked Intruders — In A Devious Plot Hatched By A Loved One
Dr. Mario Gonzales was happy to hire his child's nanny's son Noel Garvan-Cerna on as a ranch hand. The decision seemingly cost him his life.
It was already around 100 degrees in Bellville, Texas — a ranching community about an hour west of Houston filled with the weekend homes of Houstonites — on Saturday, Aug. 22, 2009 when Austin County got a 911 call from Charleen Gonzalez at about 12:15 p.m.
"Some guys are in our house!" she said. "My husband’s shooting at them!”
After the audible sound of gunshots, Charlene continued.
“My husband … oh Lord!" she screamed. "My son’s outside, he’s only a year and a half. Oh my god, I think I hear my husband.”
She told the 911 operator through tears that she was locked in the bathroom; he told her to stay put until the police arrived.
It was a long 17 minutes until they got there. The closest Bellville Police officer was Chris Rosales, who sped toward the scene — but made a quick, fateful stop on the way.
"I wanted to grab my high-powered rifle and my vest because I wanted to be prepared for anything I came across," he told "Killer Siblings," airing Fridays at 8/7c on Oxygen. "While behind my car, I see a vehicle fast approaching — a white truck ... A vehicle traveling like that. I’m concerned that they were involved in the shooting ... As the white truck approaches me, I’m telling the guy, ‘Stop the vehicle, stop the vehicle. And he’s looking at me and he has a complete disregard to me pointing a high-powered rifle at him. But he stopped."
On Rosales' dashcam footage, one can hear him instructing the driver, "Hey! Let me see your hands."
“At that point, I see another vehicle, a red vehicle," Rosales said, "I position myself where I’ve got my car as coverage and, as it’s going around me, that’s when I hear a shot. The bullet went right by my head. I see the passenger of the truck holding a chrome pistol, and they speed away very fast."
He called the shooting in, but his dispatcher told him to continue onto the scene of the shooting in progress, since the caller might still be in danger.
He arrived at the remote ranch at the same time as four other officers, shortly after 12:30 p.m. They found a crying kid outside and saw a young Hispanic man sitting on the porch who told them he couldn't comply with their commands to put his hands up because he'd been shot by the intruders. Inside, they found another man laying on the ground, dead.
Then they heard Charleen Gonzalez screaming for them from the bathroom.
"I was so scared," she told "Killer Siblings." "I didn’t want to open the door."
Her husband, Dr. Mario Gonzalez, was the dead Hispanic man that officers first saw when entering the home.
"The officer who was walking with me, he told me that Mario did not make it," Charleen said. "And my knees kind of gave out and he picked me up."
They reunited the young mother with her child — the kid who was wandering around outside when they arrived — and then she identified the injured man on the porch: The couple's ranch hand, Noel Galvan-Cerna.
Medical personnel responding to the scene ascertained that Noel had been shot once in the arm and that the bullet had gone into his chest; they took him away in an ambulance. Then Charleen told police what had happened.
The couple had left Houston earlier that morning with Noel and the child, Mario, to spend the weekend at the ranch, arriving around 11:45 a.m. Dr. Gonzalez headed inside, while Noel took Mario from his carseat and into a side yard to keep him occupied while Charleen unpacked the truck.
"I turned to the right and I see this man, he’s in all black with a mask, he started coming towards me," Charleen told "Killer Siblings. "So I screamed and my body just led me to the house."
Dr. Gonzalez grabbed his .357 pistol and headed outside, while Charleen grabbed the phone and locked herself in the bathroom.
"After some gunfire, everything went quiet," she said. "And all of a sudden, there were two masked men looking in at me. That’s when I realized I was probably going to die that day ... Then right at that same time, there was someone trying to come in the bathroom door. And I was using all my strength to keep him out of the bathroom."
She was not successful.
"He did open that door and he put a gun in my face and... I think that he just ran out of bullets" she said. "And he just left. And I saw the guys at the window at the same time just run away."
Investigators at the scene determined that there was a gunfight between Dr. Gonzalez and the intruders that started at or around the kitchen door. At some point, the evidence showed, Dr. Gonzalez turned to retreat further into the home, was shot in the back, and fell to the floor. At that point, his killer walked up to him and fired several more shots into his back.
Footprints outside led them to a spot on the edge of the property where they found a discarded hoodie, black ski masks, gloves, a roll of duct tape — which they thought was odd for either a robbery or a murder — and two sends of tire tracks heading to a back road that emptied out on the street on which Rosales had taken fire around 12:17 p.m.
Rosales' dashcam from the incident was of little assistance: it hadn't captured either license plate, though police were able to identify that the pickup truck was a Ford F150 and the red car was a Honda.
In a more detailed interview the following day, Charleen explained how Noel had come to be there: His mother, Esperanza, had been their nanny and, after witnessing Noel pick up his mom day after day, Dr. Gonzalez had offered him a job as a ranch hand the year before.
"When I first met Esperanza, she seemed very kind and sweet and a little shy," Charleen told "Killer Siblings." Baby Mario liked her and she was doing a great job. Noel was a pretty amazing kid and we treated him as family."
Recovering in the hospital, Noel confirmed Charleen's timeline, saying that he was suddenly shot while playing with Mario, after which the attackers attempted to tie him up with duct tape. He heard more gunshots and, when he was eventually able to get up, he checked on the baby and tried to attend to his own wounds until the police arrived.
There were no fingerprints or DNA on the discarded clothes or duct tape, and investigators might have been at a dead-end if not for an eagle-eyed Texas Ranger who, responding to the murder nearly an hour later, spotted another white pickup truck on his way there. He pulled it over but the two people in it were friendly, so he jotted down the license plate and continued to the crime scene.
The license plate was registered to a Sergio Bustillo — who, it turned out, lived at the same address as Noel Galvan-Cerna.
When police went to Bustillo's apartment, it turned out that he was Esperanza's boyfriend and that the whole family — Esperanza, Noel, his older brother Cristóbal, his younger brother Moises, and their two sisters — lived there.
Bustillo also owned a white Ford F150, but swore that Cristóbal and Moises had borrowed it on Saturday, given him back the keys on Saturday night, and hadn't been seen since. And while Bustillo was quick to agree that Cristóbal and Moises could've committed a crime, both he and his mother denied that Noel, the hard-working golden child, would've been involved.
Armed with Cristóbal's cell phone number courtesy of Bustillo, were able to trace his location and sent Houston SWAT to help arrest him and Moises on Aug. 27. That's when police learn that the brothers had a cousin, Misael Santollo, who owns a red Honda.
During questioning on Aug. 28, both brothers admitted to being part of a plan to hold Charleen and Mario hostage in order to force Dr. Gonzalez to withdraw a sizable amount of money out of his bank accounts, which they expected would be about $65,000.
Both brothers denied Noel had any role in the plot; Cristóbal said a friend named Pollo, who he met playing soccer, was both the mastermind and the shooter.
"He kept shooting back at him. We were not going to kill him," Cristóbal told police in Spanish during his interrogation. "I always said, ‘I don’t want anyone to die,’ especially my brother Noel and the doctor."
But when explaining the plotters' various roles to police, Cristóbal slipped up.
"Misael was going to go with the man in the car to withdraw the money from the bank," he told police, who expressed a bit of surprise at the new name. "Not Misael," he added. "El Pollo."
The police eventually found a cell phone number for Santollo and arrested him on Sept. 1; during his interrogation, he denied there was ever any "Pollo" and said that, actually, the hostage plot had all been Noel's idea.
"He planned it," Santollo told police in his interrogation, "but it wasn’t a very good plan because he didn’t even know what he was doing."
The Friday before the murder, Santollo had joined the Galvan-Cerna borothers who were discussing the plot to rob Dr. Gonzalez by taking Charleen and Mario hostage.
"The next day, Saturday morning at 6:00, we went [to Bellville], me and Noel in my car, Moises and Cristóbal in the truck," Santollo told police. "We got there and Noel showed us where to park, where everything was at and how everything was gonna happen when we were in the house."
He then drove Noel back to Houston to meet up with the Gonzalez family, and Santollo headed back to Bellville to wait with Cristóbal and Moises until Noel texted them that the four had arrived. After receiving the text, Santollo, Cristóbal and Moises head to the house, where they are spotted by Charleen too quickly. In a bit of a panic, they decide to restrain Noel and, while they were doing so, Dr. Gonzalez starts shooting at them. According to Santollo, Cristóbal, holding a .9 mm, shot back — first hitting Noel and then the doctor in the back.
The three then entered the house and, but left after realizing Charleen had called 911.
Surveillance cameras at the McDonald's Santollo mentioned they ate at before dropping Noel off confirmed the presence of all three Galvan-Cerna brothers on the morning in question.
Noel Galvan-Cerna was arrested for murder but, unlike his brothers, refused to provide a statement. All four were charged with capital murder, but prosecutors opted not to pursue the death penalty, according to Austin County assistant district attorney Brandy Robinson, because the law required them to prove beyond a reasonable doubt which man had pulled the trigger.
Instead, they chose to seek life sentences without the possibility of parole for the two suspects they deemed most culpable: Cristóbal, who they believed was the shooter both at the home and during the traffic stop conducted by Rosales, and Noel, who they believed came up with the plot.
Moises Galvan-Cerna was eventually allowed to plead out and receive a 50-year sentence with the possibility of parole; according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice records, he will be eligible for parole in 2034.
Misael Santollo was also offered a plea agreement in exchange for testifying against Noel Galvan-Cerna; he received a 38-year sentence for his role. Records from the TDCJ indicate he'll be eligible for parole in 2028.
Cristóbal Galvan-Cerna went to trial and, in February 2012, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Noel Galvan-Cerna refused to allow his defense lawyers to pursue a plea agreement on his behalf and also went on trial in 2012. In November, he was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
All four family members are currently housed in different correctional facilities in the state of Texas.
Charleen Gonzalez Burleson, who was pregnant at the time of her husband's murder, gave birth to a boy, Giovanni, in February 2010. She has since remarried.