Pre-trial hearing in capital murder case of Gustavo Zavala-Garcia reveals plethora of information

Published on Wednesday, 31 May 2017 17:32 - Written by EMILY GUEVARA, eguevara@tylerpaper.com

Almost 4,000 pages and more than 100 gigabytes of digital information has been gathered and shared among attorneys during the discovery phase of the case against capital murder defendant Gustavo Zavala-Garcia.

During a short pre-trial hearing Wednesday morning, lawyers on both sides of the case against the man accused of killing a 10-year-old Tyler girl last year addressed the court about progress being made before the case goes to trial.

First Assistant District Attorney April Sikes said the state has provided the defense with thousands of pages of information in physical and digital form, but part of the remaining evidence to be provided still is unfinished. She said it includes forensic tests that are underway. Those will be turned over to the defense when it is complete.

The hearing in the 241st District Court lasted less than 15 minutes and provided an update of how the case is coming together.

“We are working very hard to go through all this discovery,” Mrs. Sikes said. “There is a tremendous amount of paper discovery … and then a tremendous amount of digital discovery.”

Judge Jack Skeen Jr. concurred, saying there is extensive material - forensic and otherwise - involved in this case, and the main focus of the court right now is to move the case along and keep it on schedule.

Zavala-Garcia, 24, who is accused of killing 10-year-old Kayla Gomez-Orozco in November 2016, was in the courtroom for the hearing. He was escorted into the courtroom by two sheriff’s deputies at 8:48 a.m., and during the hearing his interpreter stood behind him, translating the proceedings.

When the hearing concluded, Zavala-Garcia stood and quietly conversed with his attorneys with the help of interpreters.

The hearing is one of six scheduled through September in the capital murder case. The next one is set for July 6.

During the hearings, the court could consider any motions filed by the prosecution or defense.

These could include motions to exclude evidence, for change of venue or notice of intent to plead insanity.

The April pre-trial hearing was waived because the prosecution and the defense said there was no need for one at the time. The state filed its notice of intent to seek the death penalty on April 19.

Zavala-Garcia, who was related to Kayla by marriage, was reportedly among the last people to see her before she went missing Nov. 1, 2016, from the foyer of Bullard First Assembly on U.S. Highway 69.

Kayla’s body was found four days later in a well on the property where Zavala-Garcia lived in the 22100 block of Farm-to-Market Road 2493 (Old Jacksonville Highway) in Bullard.

In the indictment of Zavala-Garcia, prosecutors contend he attacked Kayla and sexually assaulted or attempted to sexually assault her after her kidnapping.

Prosecutors also contend he struck Kayla with and against a blunt object, asphyxiated her and drowned her.

It is unclear what exactly caused her death, and at the time the indictment was released, Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham declined to comment - citing the restrictive and protective order in the case.

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