The expected start of the murder trial for the suspect accused of kidnapping and murdering a Tyler girl last November in Bullard has officially been pushed back until next year.
On Thursday, July 6, Gustavo Zavala-Garcia, who was arrested in November 2016 and charged with capital murder in the disappearance and death of 10-year-old Kayla Gomez-Orozco of Tyler, appeared in a pre-trial hearing before the 241st District Court of Judge Jack Skeen Jr.
During the hearing, attorneys representing the State of Texas and the defense agreed that a timeframe of approximately 7-8 more months was necessary to allow both sides to continue to prepare for the murder trial.
After hearing from both the state and the defense, Skeen officially approved an Agreed Motion for Continuance submitted by the attorneys, delaying the trial until February 2018, but gave no specific date for the trial’s start. Skeen also said the attorneys on both sides are required to keep him updated on the results of ongoing forensic testing.
Previously, Skeen had set the date of Thursday, Aug. 17 for the trial’s jury selection to begin, as well as individual voir dire to take place Monday, Aug. 22.
According to the Agreed Motion for Continuance document obtained by Bullard Banner News, “there are currently approximately 3,688 pages of paper discovery, and approximately 203 gigabytes of electronic information” listed as evidence in the case.
In regards to forensic testing in the case, several items have been previously submitted for DNA testing and are either completed or are waiting to be tested by the Trace Evidence Section of the Department of Public Safety Garland Laboratory, but would not be received in enough time in the current trial setting to allow Zavala-Garcia’s defense lawyers to review the findings.
Additionally, the document states that regarding evidence containing biological material in Article 38.43 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure “sets forth the requirements of DNA testing in a Capital Murder case in which the State is seeking the death penalty.”
Approximately 172 other items of evidence, including 69 items listed on the property sheet entries that are thought to contain biological evidence were also sent to be analyzed.
The agreement also stated that “all parties agree that the sheer volume of this information makes it an impossibility to proceed forward with the current trial setting, which would be six weeks away from the next pre-trial date.”
After attending a prayer service on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016, with her mother at Bullard First Assembly of God church, located on Highway 69 S. in Bullard, Gomez-Orozco was reported missing, prompting officials to issue an AMBER Alert for Gomez-Orozco the following day.
As a part of the investigation, numerous law enforcement agencies converged on the city of Bullard to begin the search. After looking for Gomez-Orozco for three days, law enforcement welcomed assistance from the Bullard and East Texas communities to search for any sign of the girl, prompting over 1,000 volunteers to give of their time and efforts in the search.
The body of Gomez-Orozco was found during the late hours of Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016, inside of a water well on Zavala-Garcia’s property, located in the 23000 block of Old Jacksonville Highway, north of Bullard, inside of a water well described by Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith as being approximately 25-to-28 feet deep and filled with approximately six to eight feet of water, leading to Zavala-Garcia’s arrest.
Zavala-Garcia was given a consensual polygraph exam by officials after his arrest, during which he answered “yes” to questions regarding causing Gomez-Orozco’s death; however, Zavala-Garcia later recanted his answers.
According to the indictment against Zavala-Garcia, who is described as a relative by marriage of Gomez-Orozco’s, jurors believe he “did then and there intentionally cause the death of an individual, namely, Kayla Gomez-Orozco, by homicidal violence through a specific means unknown to the grand jury, and [Zavala-Garcia] was then and there in the course of committing or attempting to commit the offense of kidnapping.”
The indictment also said the jurors believe in the possibility that Zavala-Garcia may have sexually assaulted and physically assaulted Gomez-Orozco by striking her with a blunt object, as well as causing her asphyxiation and drowning.
Officials believe he placed Gomez-Orozco inside of the well within a timeframe of 17 minutes after taking her from the church, according to Zavala-Garcia’s arrest warrant.
Zavala-Garcia was identified by officials as the prisoner who caused a scene on the roof of the Smith County Jail Friday, Feb. 17, when he climbed over a fence and up an old basketball goal, refusing orders by jailers to come down, during his scheduled recreation time required by state law.
According to reported information at the time, he was not handcuffed during the incident, in accordance with the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, which was said to allow inmates, regardless of their charges, to have three hours recreation time per week and be free of handcuffs.
After failed attempts to negotiate with Zavala-Garcia by Tyler Fire and Rescue and a crisis intervention officer, a ladder was set up for him to come down, while a large inflatable object was blown up and placed under him in case of a fall.
Eventually, a jail lieutenant climbed up the ladder in an effort to forcibly remove Zavala-Garcia from the basketball goal; however, Zavala-Garcia chose to fight by punching and swinging his legs at the officer, which caused Zavala-Garcia to fall onto the inflatable object.
Zavala-Garcia did not receive any additional charges after the jail incident, and no injuries were reported. The incident did lead the Smith County Sheriff’s Office to
In a press release after the incident, Sheriff Smith said the reported information was false and that the Assistant Director for Texas Commission on Jail Standards clarified that inmates going to recreation can remain handcuffed and shackled, if warranted.
Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham filed a motion to pursue the death penalty in Zavala Garcia’s murder trial on Wednesday, April 19.
According to Smith County Jail records, Zavala-Garcia remains inside of the Smith County Jail charged with one count of Capital Murder with a $10 million bond and an Immigration Detainer.
His next scheduled appearance will be during a pre-trial hearing before Skeen’s court, slated for Thursday, Oct. 5.