LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - During a plea hearing Thursday, the third co-defendant in the Feb. 7, 2012 murder of Darnell Bennett, pleaded guilty to two lesser charges - aggravated robbery and tampering with evidence. Judge Paul White of the 159th Judicial District Court sentenced him to 25 years in prison.
Osvaldo Hernandez, 19, of Lufkin, is still being held in the Angelina County Jail. Prior to Thursday's hearing his bond had been set at $500,000.
"Hernandez pleaded guilty to lesser charges," Katrina Carswell, the prosecuting attorney on the case, said. "The judge sentenced him to 25 years for the aggravated robbery charge and 10 years for the tampering with physical evidence."
Carswell explained that Hernandez's two sentences will be concurrent, which means he will serve them at the same time. She said if Hernandez hadn't decided to go the plea hearing route, he would have had a jury trial, and the District Attorney's Office could very well have tried him for capital murder like they did with the first two co-defendants in the case.
"Officers never alleged the tampering with physical evidence charge because it was just a first-degree felony," Carswell said. "We filed the tampering charge because the evidence showed that Hernandez obtained a rifle before he and the other suspects went to Bennett's house, and he got rid of it at some point."
Carswell said the rifle Hernandez took to Bennett's house still hasn't been recovered by law enforcement officials.
Last February, Orta and four other suspects were arrested in connection to Bennett's murder. Lufkin Police detectives believe that the five men went to Bennett's house hoping to rob him of marijuana.
On Dec. 12, an Angelina County jury found Rafael Orta guilty of capital murder for his role in Bennett's death. Because the state didn't opt to pursue the death penalty, it meant that he received an automatic life sentence.
During the trial, Carswell told jurors that because Orta was an active participant in the plan to rob Bennett, he was an accomplice to his murder. Defense attorney Jerry Whiteker said the five men involved didn't think anyone would get hurt; they were simply trying to get some marijuana and maybe some cash.
One of the other suspects, Jacob Woodard, admitted to shooting Bennett. In early November, an Angelina County jury found Woodard guilty of capital murder and sentenced him to life in prison.
The other co-defendants in the case include: Jesus Vela, Osvaldo and Gerardo Renteria. They will be tried at a later date.