GREENVILLE, Tex. – Authorities have dropped murder charges against the man arrested for the shooting deaths of two people and the wounding of six others at an Oct. 26 Halloween party on the outskirts of this northeast Texas city.
Hunt County Sheriff Randy Meeks said investigators found additional evidence likely to clear Brandon Ray Gonzales, 23, an auto mechanic who was taken into custody two days after the mass shooting at a popular entertainment facility.
County jail officials released Gonzales Tuesday night. He had been held on $1 million bail.
Gonzales spoke publicly outside the jail. He said his lawyers submitted evidence showing he was in his car on a FaceTime call outside the venue when the shooting occurred around midnight, and that four people with him at the time verified his account.
Meeks did not say if authorities had turned up other potential suspects. The FBI and Texas Rangers assisted the sheriff’s office in the investigation.
“The probable cause arrest (of Gonzales) was based on credible information and statements given to law enforcement,” the sheriff said in a statement. “Law enforcement has diligently investigated this case and in the days since the arrest, additional information has come to light.
”Due to the lack of cooperation from witnesses and discovery of exculpatory evidence during the course of the investigation, we have requested the Hunt County District Attorney’s Office take no action on Mr. Gonzales’ case at this time, and that he be released from custody.”
Shot and killed at the party were Kevin Berry Jr., 23, of Dallas, and Byron Craven Jr., also 23, of Arlington, a Dallas suburb. Authorities said a gunman armed with a 9mm handgun fired eight bullets into the crowd before fleeing in the aftermath chaos.
More than 700 people attended the “Twerk or Tweet” Halloween costume party. Several students from nearby Texas A&M University-Commerce were present to celebrate homecoming weekend.
The Rev. Jeff Hood, a community activist who organized a protest over Gonzales’ arrest, said the mistaken identity of the shooter “demonstrated the incompetence of the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office. The spirit of justice has prevailed.”
Michael Campbell, a lawyer for Gonzales, accompanied him from the county jail. He said the investigation into the shooting lacked due diligence, used “shoddy and incomplete” techniques and “rushed to judgment when naming Brandon, an innocent man, as a suspect in this case.”
The Gonzales arrest warrant affidavit said he had been named as the shooter by an unnamed witness, who spoke to authorities with his attorney, who also was not identified.
Sheriff Meeks said on the day of Gonzales’ arrest that no motive had been determined or a weapon recovered. He also said Gonzales denied being the shooter.
The Greenville, Texas, Herald-Banner provided details for this story.