The state and the defense have agreed that more DNA testing is needed before the capital murder case can go to trial for the man accused of the 2016 killing of 10-year-old Kayla Gomez-Orozco. This agreed order will push the trial date back another two months.
Gustavo Zavala-Garcia appeared in court Thursday for a pretrial hearing regarding DNA testing of trace evidence.
A forensic expert from the Texas Department of Public Safety lab in Garland testified that the lab issued a report to the state on Oct. 10.
She said the lab tested 24 samples through nuclear DNA testing and she has been working with the defense expert to find the items that are best suited for mitochondrial testing, a testing method the DPS lab cannot perform.
The DPS lab agreed to send 10 items to the University of North Texas lab for mitochondrial DNA testing.
She testified it will take the trace experts at the DPS lab about 30 days to get the items ready and transferred to the UNT lab, and it will take the UNT lab about six months to test the items.
Judge Jack Skeen of the 241st District Court said if the state and defense agree the mitochondrial testing is necessary, then the court will issue an order to have the testing done and amend the scheduling for the trial.
"The defense is requesting it and state is agreeing to it," Smith County Assistant District Attorney Jacob Putman said. "It's a death penalty case and we want to make sure it's right."
Skeen said the court will reschedule the trial to the end of May based on the testimony from the DPS forensic expert.
He said the new scheduling order would also set a date to bring in the jury panel because it normally takes about four weeks to select a jury for a death penalty case.
"A panel of about 300 people will be called and it will take about four weeks to pick the jury," Skeen said.
The state and defense agreed the trial should be pushed back until the end of May 2019.
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, District Attorney Matt 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.