BAYTOWN, Texas – A Baytown man was sentenced to 60 years in prison after pleading guilty to murdering, robbing and killing a 65-year-old man who used a wheelchair in 2017 on Christmas Day, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced Monday.
Marcus Donnell Gilbert, 41, was scheduled to begin trial this week, but instead, he pleaded guilty on Friday to killing John Henry Fernandez, who was found on Jan. 2, 2018. According to investigators, the victim suffocated after his hands and feet had been bound, and his mouth had been taped shut.
Ogg said 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 help Fernandez in exchange for a place to live but instead of helping, she allowed her boyfriend to routinely visit the man as they planned the robbery and killing that took place in 2017 on Christmas Day, a news release said.
After concerned neighbors alerted apartment management, investigators said maintenance workers found Fernandez’s body locked inside his bedroom. Investigators tracked down Gilbert and his girlfriend and said they learned the couple 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 the victim, 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, according to Ogg’s office’s news release about the proceedings. Ogg’s office did not release details about the girlfriend’s case. KPRC 2 is working to obtain information about her and when her next court date will be.
Baytown police arrested the couple and charged them with capital murder. Gilbert was facing life in prison without parole, so he pleaded guilty to murder in exchange for 60 years in prison, Ogg said. He must serve at least 30 years before he is eligible for parole and cannot appeal the conviction or the sentence.
“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.”
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. According to Ta, authorities looked for 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 believes Gilbert had time to think about the murder while awaiting trial and 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.”