Gustavo Zavala-Garcia, the man charged with the 2016 murder of Kayla Gomez-Orozco, takes a seat during the Aug. 16, 2018, pretrial hearing update on hair sample DNA testing. Judge Jack Skeen predicts the jury trial will begin March 18, 2019, after four weeks of jury voir dire. (JAMES HARTLEY/STAFF)

The trial for the man accused of the 2016 killing of 10-year-old Kayla Gomez-Orozco is slated to begin March 18, 2019, after four weeks of jury selection, but could start later, Judge Jack Skeen said Thursday at a pretrial hearing.

Gustavo Zavala-Garcia, 26, was indicted in 2017 and faces a capital murder charge. If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.

Zavala-Garcia appeared in court Thursday for an update on DNA testing from hair samples that may be used in a jury trial. The Texas Department of Public Safety, which is collecting and testing the samples, finished trace testing Monday and expects to complete DNA testing Oct. 18.

If the defense and prosecution agree to accept the results, the trial will move forward as scheduled. However, Skeen said the defense can challenge the results or require more or other testing, which could cause him to push back the trial date.

As the schedule stands, Skeen plans to subpoena a jury pool to fill out questionnaires on Feb. 4. Because the state is seeking the death penalty, potential jurors will be called back over the course of four weeks for individual voir dire questioning.

While the full prosecution team has not been selected, Jacob Putman, the assistant district attorney who won the Republican primary to take over as DA, said outgoing DA Matt Bingham may be assisting in the trial.

Zavala-Garcia is accused of killing Kayla in November 2016. He was related to her by marriage and was 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.

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.

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

In the indictment, prosecutors contend Zavala-Garcia 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.


James Hartley is a multimedia journalist focusing on written news, features and longform storytelling. He is passionate about local politics, true stories, movies and baseball. Connect with James on Twitter @ByJamesHartley or Instagram @JamesTakesPhotos.

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