MEDINA COUNTY – Bandera County is nestled in the Hill Country, just to the northwest of Bexar County.
It’s home to the Townsend family — Patricia and her three kids: two sons, and the baby of the family, Bridget.
On January 14, 2001, Bridget was at the home of her boyfriend Joe, who at the time was a drug dealer.
In later testimony, Joe said he had last talked to Bridget that evening around 7 p.m.
When he got home around midnight her car and wallet were there but she wasn’t, he said. He also noticed some of his money was missing.
He started calling friends and family looking for Bridget but nobody had seen or heard from her.
Joe then called his friend Ramiro Gonzales. Bridget had told Joe that Gonzales had stopped by earlier in the day looking for him but Gonzales denied ever going by there.
Joe eventually called the police and reported Bridget missing.
She had vanished and police had no leads as to what could have possibly happened to her.
A jailhouse confession
Two years went by without much movement on the case.
Then 20-year-old Ramiro Gonzales had been convicted of raping and kidnapping a Bandera real estate agent. He was sentenced to two life sentences for this crime.
While waiting to be transferred to prison, he asked to speak to Sheriff James MacMillan.
Gonzales told the sheriff he knew what happened to Bridget Townsend, the teen who had now been missing for two years.
Gonzales said he knew where Bridget was because he was the one who killed her.
At first, Sheriff MacMillan didn’t believe him but when Ramiro told him he could take him to where her remains were, MacMillan took what Gonzales was saying more seriously.
Ramiro would eventually lead the sheriff and his deputies to a ranch in neighboring Medina County.
They drove through the ranch to a remote hillside, they got out of the vehicle and then walked another hundred yards when Gonzales said this is it. This is where he had left Bridget’s body.
He described the jewelry she was wearing and where she was standing when he shot her.
After a brief search, authorities were able to find Bridget’s remains and even her jewelry that Gonzales had described to them.
It was during the drive back to jail that Gonzales told them what happened to Bridge the night of January 14, 2001.
Gonzales had visited his drug dealer Joe’s home asking for cocaine, Bridget answered and said Joe was working and wasn’t home.
He said he took advantage of the situation and decided to go to Joe’s house to steal either drugs or money, knowing Bridget was alone.
When she answered the door, he forced his way in and started searching for drugs and money.
Gonzales didn’t find any drugs, but he did find some money. That is when he noticed Bridget trying to call her boyfriend.
He says he pushed her down and tied her up. Gonzales put her in his truck and drove toward a ranch in Medina County.
He made only one stop, to get his grandfather’s .243 deer rifle.
Gonzales then drove deep into the wooded area of the ranch.
Bridget begged for her life and offered to give him money, drugs, and sex.
Gonzales raped her, then walked her toward some brush and shot her.
After, he said he went back to his grandparents’ house and put the rifle back in his grandfather’s truck.
The rifle was later found at his grandfather’s home and matched the description of the one Gonzales said he used.
He was charged with capital murder and in 2006 was found guilty and sentenced to the death penalty.
After sentencing, Patricia Townsend told the media: “My little girl can rest in peace now.”
‘I believed that she deserved to know’
Gonzales agreed to a sit-down interview at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston.
He says he confessed to the crime because Bridget’s mother deserved to know what happened to her.
“It was her mother,” Gonzales said. “An individual had told me about her mother and it impacted me really, really bad. I believed that she deserved to know.”
At the time, Gonzales was set to be executed on August 10.
“I have no qualms about dying, you know it doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “It’s just my way out of prison.”
According to Bridget’s brother, Gonzales’ execution has been delayed six times.
One was for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another delay came in 2022 when a federal judge ruled Gonzales couldn’t be executed without religious accommodations, including allowing his spiritual adviser to hold his hand when he receives a lethal injection.
Gonzales recently made national headlines because he asked to delay his execution in order to donate a kidney.
His lawyers wrote a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott asking for a 30-day reprieve to donate his kidney “to someone who is in urgent need of a kidney transplant.”
That request was denied.
Most recently, his execution was delayed because of false testimony from a forensic psychologist.
In 2006, Dr. Edward Gripon testified that Gonzales would likely commit sexual assault again and was a future danger to the public.
Gripon has since re-interviewed Gonzales and changed his assessment, saying his sentence should be changed to life in prison.
What’s next for Gonzales?
Now Gonzales’ case will head back to Medina County to go through the sentencing phase again.
At that time, it’ll be determined whether he stays on death row or is sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
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