The trial for the suspect accused in the 2016 kidnapping and murder case of a 10-year-old Tyler girl in Bullard has now been rescheduled due to a delay in receiving forensic testing results.
Gustavo Zavala-Garcia, of Bullard, and his defense team, headed by criminal defense attorney Jeff L. Haas, appeared in the 241st District Court of The Honorable Judge Jack Skeen, Jr. during a pre-trial hearing on Thursday, Jan. 4, inside the Smith County Courthouse.
Before the pre-trial hearing began, Judge Skeen, along with Zavala-Garcia’s attorneys and representatives from the Smith County District Attorney’s Office met privately for an ex parte hearing, in which the defense filed a motion of continuance in the case.
Skeen reconvened the court afterwards and announced he would grant the defense’s continuance request.
According to Smith County First Assistant District Attorney April Sykes, the Texas Department of Public Safety has finished their testing on trace evidence in the case, but the evidence is still waiting to be administratively reviewed. Sykes said during the hearing she hoped the review would take place within a week’s time.
Additionally, Sykes said that DNA testing sent to be tested during the month of September is expected to be completed by the end of January.
Since the previous pre-trial hearing held in December, Sykes stated that only one new piece of evidence has been entered into the case – a CD with notes and property sheets from the FBI.
Judge Skeen discussed with lawyers for the state and defense that with Zavala-Garcia’s trial slated for venire on Thursday, Feb. 8, approximately 250 people would be called to meet in the Smith County Courthouse’s Central Jury Room, followed by individual venire on Monday, Feb. 12 and the trial beginning on Monday, March 19.
The judge admitted the case was “heavy in forensic testing” and said the primary focus was that the DNA results be made available and furnished to the District Attorney’s Office and defense counsel by the end of January, as the defense is entitled to have an independent expert review and consult regarding DNA testing.
When discussing the jury selection process, Judge Skeen said it would not be an ordinary selection of a jury for the case since it involves a possible death sentence, stating in his previous experience with death penalty cases, it takes approximately four weeks for individual venire.
The case surrounding the Kayla Gomez-Orozco kidnapping and murder by Zavala-Garcia is being pushed to the forefront by DPS forensic scientists, according to Skeen, since the state is seeking the death penalty.
Bingham and the Smith County Attorney’s Office announced in April 2017 that the death penalty would be sought in Zavala-Garcia’s trial.
Judge Skeen also said the rescheduling of the trial would conflict with another trial being prosecuted by the Smith County District Attorney’s Office in the 144th District Court later this year.
The capital murder case being tried in the 114th District Court in front of The Honorable Christi Kennedy in which the Smith County DA’s Office is seeking the death penalty is in the case of Jamrc Mosley, 25, of Tyler.
Mosley was charged in last January with counts of Capital Murder by Terror Threat and Aggravated Robbery after robbing a Conoco gas station on Loop 323 during the early morning hours of January 28, 2017. During the robbery, Mosley allegedly shot and killed the store’s clerk, identified as Billy Dale Stacks. He was arrested the following day in Dallas.
Mosley’s trial, which is being prosecuted by Bingham and Sykes, is scheduled to begin central panel venire on Thursday, May 10, followed by individual venire on Monday, May 14 and evidence being presented on Monday, June 4.
During the discussion regarding rescheduling, Sykes requested that Zavala-Garcia’s trial start after the trial for Mosley, citing that there is typically a six-week window in between two trials.
She also requested the trial start after August, saying that the court would have more success summoning individuals for a venire panel when students are back at school instead of during the summer when families take vacations.
Sykes said she had contacted Tyler Independent School District regarding when school would begin in August 2018, and was informed that the tentative date in Monday, Aug. 20, but the official date would be set at a meeting of the Tyler ISD school board later in January.
After hearing from Sykes and speaking with the defense counsel, Skeen announced a tentative schedule for the trial of Zavala-Garcia, with a central venire panel date of Thursday, Aug. 30, followed by individual venire on Monday, Sept. 10 and trial date starting on Monday, Oct 8.
According to Skeen, the court was to release an amended schedule last week following the pre-trial hearing, while also saying any future pre-trial hearings would also be rescheduled and announced at a later date.
Gomez-Orozco attended a prayer service with her mother at Bullard First Assembly of God church, located on Highway 69 S. in Bullard on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016, and was reported missing afterwards, prompting officials to issue an AMBER Alert.
For three days, a large number of law enforcement officials representing numerous agencies at the city, local, state, and federal levels searched for the missing girl. Law enforcement officials then sought the help and assistance of the community, as over 1,000 volunteers from Bullard and the East Texas area offered their time and efforts to help in the search.
On Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016, the search for Gomez-Orozco ended. Officials found the girl dead on Zavala-Garcia’s property, located in the 23000 block of Old Jacksonville Highway, north of Bullard, inside of a water well approximately 25-to-28 feet deep and filled with approximately six-to-eight feet of water, according to Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith.
After locating the girl’s body, Zavala-Garcia, described as a relative by marriage, was arrested by authorities at the residence. He was given a consensual polygraph exam and answered “yes” to questions regarding causing Gomez-Orozco’s death. However, Zavala-Garcia later recanted his answers.
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,” according to the indictment against him.
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, jurors also speculated in the indictment.
Officials say in a 17-minute timeframe, Zavala-Garcia kidnapped Gomez-Orozco from the church and placed her inside of the water well, according to the affidavit.
An official cause of death for Gomez-Orozco has yet to be announced by authorities.
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.