Kayla Gomez murder trial

Suspect to appear in pre-trial hearing

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The suspect accused of kidnapping and murdering a 10-year-old Tyler girl in Bullard last November is scheduled to appear in a Smith County courtroom for a pre-trial hearing this week.

Gustavo Zavala-Garcia is slated to appear in a pre-trial hearing scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 14, inside the courtroom of the 241st District Court of Judge Jack Skeen Jr.

During his most recent pre-trial hearing, Judge Skeen then informed both the District Attorney’s office and Zavala-Garcia’s defense that he intends for the case to stay on schedule, but also said the schedule depends on future ruling determining the defense’s preparation.

Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham informed Judge Skeen during Zavala-Garcia’s pre-trial hearing in November that a report from the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office has been received; the report previously was missing a page, but now, it has been turned over in full.

Bingham also stated that his office had been in contact with Angel Rios with the Texas Department of Public Safety, who said trace analysis on original items sent to DPS was completed in October and was undergoing a technical review process, with a report to be released in December. According to Bingham, a total of 12 items were originally sent by the State to be tested.

In addition, Bingham also informed the judge that the initial serology, the scientific study of serum and other bodily fluids, and the biological testing were to have been completed within a week of the previous pre-trial hearing while the DNA testing should be completed by end of December, with the report on the tests being made available within the following weeks to a month.

In addition to this week’s pre-trial hearing, Zavala-Garcia is scheduled to also appear in two additional hearings in 2018 (Thursday, Jan. 4 and Thursday, Jan. 18), with voir dire central panel selection on Thursday, Feb. 8 and voir dire individual selection on Monday, Feb. 12.

According to Judge Skeen’s schedule, the official start of Zavala-Garcia’s murder trial is scheduled for Monday, March 19.

Bingham and the Smith County Attorney’s Office announced in April that the death penalty would be sought in Zavala-Garcia’s trial.

On Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016, after attending a prayer service with her mother at Bullard First Assembly of God church, located on Highway 69 S. in Bullard Gomez-Orozco was reported missing, prompting the issuance of an AMBER Alert the following day.

The initial search for the missing girl lasted three days, as a large number of law enforcement officials representing numerous agencies at the city, local, state, and federal levels arrived in the city of Bullard.

Afterwards, law enforcement sought the help and assistance of the community, welcoming residents from the Bullard and East Texas communities to search, prompting over 1,000 volunteers to give of their time and efforts.

The search for Gomez-Orozco ended on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016, after the girl was found dead inside of a water well on Zavala-Garcia’s property, located in the 23000 block of Old Jacksonville Highway, north of Bullard.

According to Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith, the well was approximately 25-to-28 feet deep and filled with approximately six-to-eight feet of water.

Officials arrested Zavala-Garcia, described as a relative by marriage, at the residence after locating the girl’s body. After his arrest, he was given a consensual polygraph exam, 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 him, jurors believe that Zavala-Garcia “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.”

Jurors also speculate that Gomez-Orozco may have been sexually assaulted and physically assaulted by Zavala-Garcia, possibly striking her with a blunt object, as well as causing her asphyxiation and drowning.

Officials also believe there was a 17-minute timeframe in which Zavala-Garcia kidnapped Gomez-Orozco from the church and placed her inside of the water well, according to the affidavit.

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, according to Smith County Jail Records.

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