KAYLA GOMEZ MURDER TRIAL

Judge denies continuance, forensic experts testifies during pre-trial hearing

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The judge presiding over the trial of the suspect in the November 2016 kidnapping and murder case of 10-year-old Kayla Gomez-Orozco denied granting a motion for continuance last week.

Gustavo Zavala-Garcia is suspected of kidnapping the girl from Bullard First Assembly of God on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016, setting off a frantic search that ended four days later after officials found her body inside of a water well on Zavala-Garcia property, located in the 23000 block of Old Jacksonville Highway, north of Bullard.

Judge Jack Skeen, Jr., of the 241st District Court in Tyler, said in a pre-trial hearing on Wednesday, April 4 that the court would not grant the continuance requested by Zavala-Garcia’s defense team, which allows for the trial to stay on its current schedule.

Previously, Skeen had set the official start to the trial in October, but stated that he believed the trial would likely take place during the 2019 calendar year after Jacob Putman was voted on during the March primaries election to succeed Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham.

In April 2017, Bingham and the Smith County Attorney’s Office announced that the death penalty would be sought in Zavala-Garcia’s trial.

During the pre-trial hearing, both sides heard testimony from Kristen Casota, a forensic scientist from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

In her testimony, Casota said testing for DNA on items that were submitted in December 2016 has been finished, while also saying the trace analysis is estimated to be completed by the end of April.

Bingham also stated that additional items were submitted for testing in the case twice -- in February 2017, as well as September 2017.

According to Casota, if the report is released at the end of the month and there are no more hairs that need to be tested for DNA, the report would be completed. However, if there are more items found during trace analysis that need DNA testing, the report may be delayed in coming out until July.

Skeen stated that he would sign an order after the pre-trial hearing last week to have all items that have been tested and completed to be handed over to the defense for additional independent testing.

In regards to Casota’s testimony, Skeen said the testimony would be considered while he amends the trial schedule for the case. Additionally, Skeen told Casota that he would like another update on testing at the next pre-trial hearing.

In an affidavit, jurors stated they believe Zavala-Garcia kidnapped and intentionally caused the death of Gomez-Orozco by homicidal violence, while speculating that the girl 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.

An official cause of death for Gomez-Orozco has yet to be announced by authorities.

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