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Grand jury indicts man on murder charge in shooting death of Texas girl during ATM robbery

HOUSTON — A man accused of fatally shooting a 9-year-old girl when he was robbed at a Houston ATM in 2022 has been indicted on a murder charge in her death.

Tuesday’s indictment against Tony Earls comes nearly two years after another grand jury declined to indict him in the death of Arlene Alvarez.

Gwen Alvarez, the girl’s mother, said the indictment brought her family some relief, knowing it is the “first step of receiving justice for my daughter.”

“Hopefully we inspire other families to never give up on their loved ones. It’s horrible and it’s a big nightmare what we go through. … We’re living day by day,” a tearful Gwen Alvarez said during a news conference.

Authorities said Wednesday an arrest warrant has been issued for Earls, who has been a fugitive for about a year now on an unrelated assault charge. A $5,000 reward is being offered for information leading to his arrest, said Andy Kahan, director of victim services at Crime Stoppers of Houston.

Earls’ previous attorneys had said their client was not a “monster” but a family man who was devastated by Arlene’s death. They said Earls was not reckless in his actions and was only protecting his family.

Earls and his wife were at an ATM to withdraw money on Feb. 14, 2022, when an unidentified robber pulled a gun on them and fled after taking $20, along with a check and their car keys, according to prosecutors.

Earls’ attorneys said after their client got out of his car, the robber fired and Earls fired back in self-defense. Investigators say Earls fired at a truck thinking the robbery suspect had possibly climbed into it.

But the vehicle was actually carrying Arlene and her family as they went to the ATM to make a deposit before heading to a late dinner at a pizzeria. The girl was shot in the head and later died at a hospital.

Earls was arrested and charged with aggravated assault, serious bodily injury. But a grand jury in July 2022 declined to indict him on that charge or several others, including manslaughter and murder. The man who robbed Earls has never been caught.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said that earlier this year she assigned a special prosecutor, Warren Diepraam, to re-examine the case. Diepraam said an FBI firearms expert was brought in to review evidence.

Diepraam said he couldn’t discuss the evidence presented to the grand jury. But his investigation, which was assisted by Houston police and attorneys for the Alvarez family, found that Earls had a clear view of the Alvarez family’s truck and there was nothing to indicate it was connected to the robber.

“The conclusion that I reached was that if you’re going to discharge a weapon into a car … you better make sure that you’re 100% correct because there are no second chances to bring back an innocent life,” Diepraam said.

Shooting recklessly into a vehicle or a location voids any claims of self-defense or defense of property under Texas law, he said.

Ogg praised Arlene’s family for their patience and efforts in the case.

“They could have been bitter. They could have done nothing. Instead, they directed all their energy toward achieving justice for Arlene. And that’s our goal. … They will get their day in court,” Ogg said.

If convicted, Earls could be sentenced to up to life in prison.


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