A Smith County district court judge denied a request from an East Texas man, who pleaded guilty to murdering a 10-year-old child in 2016, for documents related to his case during a hearing Tuesday afternoon.
Gustavo Zavala-Garcia, 28, of Bullard, pleaded guilty to capital murder in August 2019 for the death of Kayla Gomez-Orozco. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
In January, Zavala-Garcia wrote to the attorney who represented him in the capital murder case, J. Brett Harrison, requesting over 6,600 pages of court documents.
According to the a filing by Harrison on Feb. 1, Zavala-Garcia wanted a digital copy of all documents and items Harrison has stored electronically so that Zavala-Garcia can forward it to his family for safekeeping. He also sought a condensed (two-panel) and duplexed (double sided) paper copy of the electronically-stored potions of the file and the nonelectronically-stored portions.
Within his 10 requests, Zavala-Garcia wanted all documents and items received by counsel from any person, all discovery items disclosed by any party and all other documents and items related to the case not prohibited from disclosure.
Smith County District Attorney Jacob Putman filed an objection on Feb. 2 stating part of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure saying a defendant’s attorney or counsel can allow the person they’re representing to view the information, but “may not allow that person to have copies of the information provided, other than a copy of the witness’s own statement.”
Judge Jack Skeen of the 241st District agreed on Tuesday with Putman’s objections and denied Zavala-Garcia’s motion for the document request.
Putman said both in the document and court the code prohibits the release of the state’s discovery information to a defendant, such as Zavala-Garcia.
“Anything that the state provided to the defense we would object to giving to the defendant,” Putman said Tuesday.
Ahead of Skeen’s decision, Harrison said he filed the request believing the documents couldn’t be given without a ruling from the court.
He noted the defense attorneys did not let Zavala-Garcia keep the discovery items during the case and giving him the documents cannot be done without the court’s permission.
Zavala-Garcia’s Court Case
Zavala-Garcia, who was related to Gomez-Orozco by marriage, was one of 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.
Her 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.
His guilty plea deal was made after the district attorney’s office attempted to seek the death penalty.
The defense attorneys said Zavala-Garcia had an intellectual disability, and the prosecution later brought in their own expert who found Zavala-Garcia intellectually disabled.
Putman said at the time it would be impossible to sentence Zavala-Garcia to death because of the longstanding U.S. Supreme Court precedent on executing intellectually disabled people, and that life without parole was the highest possible sentence.