TYLER, TEXAS (KLTV) - The man charged in the death of a 10-year-old girl in Smith County has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Gustavo Zavala-Garcia pleaded guilty to capital murder Thursday morning in the death of Kayla Gomez-Orozco.
She went missing during a Nov. 1, 2016, prayer service at a church in Bullard. Her body was later found in a water well at Zavala-Garcia’s home on FM 2493.
Under the plea agreement, Zavala-Garcia waived his right to a jury trial and was sentenced to life without parole.
Thursday afternoon, the family released a statement on the result.
“We were expecting a different outcome, and we need time as a family to process the information so that we can move forward. We are people of faith and we know that this is in Gods hands, He is in control,” the statement reads.
In the time since requesting the death penalty the state says the United States Supreme Court issued two opinions that severely limit the state to seek the death penalty if there is a finding of intellectual disability. Exams requested by the state concluded there is an intellectual disability.
Zavala-Garcia also waived his right to appeal or file a motion for new trial.
Smith County District Attorney Jacob Putman held a press conference following the plea agreement.
“This result is a direct consequence of recent action taken by the United States Supreme Court. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that the State cannot execute an Intellectually Disabled capital murder defendant, regardless of how severe or heinous the crime,” Putman said.
He went on to discuss the case in greater detail.
“When I took office in January of 2019, Kayla’s case became my case, and I have been committed to seeking the death penalty. However, under the current law, there is no legal way to seek the death penalty in this case. I still firmly believe that the death penalty is the only proper punishment for Mr. Garcia-Zavala, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled otherwise. Let me be clear, I do not believe that the standard set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court results in justice for Kayla’s family or our community,” Putman said.
Read the full statement below.
Office of the Smith County Criminal District Attorney Jacob Putman DISTRICT ATTORNEY
“Today, August 22 2019, Gustavo Garcia-Zavala entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to Life In Prison Without Parole.
This result is a direct consequence of recent action taken by the United States Supreme Court. In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that the State cannot execute an Intellectually Disabled capital murder defendant, regardless of how severe or heinous the crime.
The Court’s ruling left victims’ families devastated and communities outraged. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals instituted standards that allowed a jury to apply common sense when deciding if a capital murder defendant was Intellectually Disabled.
However, in March of 2017, the Supreme Court went even further in their restriction of the death penalty. In Moore v. Texas, the Supreme Court prohibited the common sense approach adopted by Texas Courts. The Supreme Court ruled that the determination of whether a capital murder defendant is Intellectually Disabled should be left to mental health experts.
In other words, if mental health experts agree that a capital murder defendant is Intellectually Disabled, the State of Texas cannot execute the criminal. Additionally, the Supreme Court ruled that a person cannot be executed regardless of their degree of Intellectual Disability.
Even if a capital murder defendant is a highly functioning individual with an Intellectual Disability, the Supreme Court says that the State may not execute the defendant. In this case, the defense claimed that the defendant is Intellectually Disabled, and such claims were supported by findings of a defense mental health expert.
To combat the defense’s claims, my office retained Dr. Timothy Proctor. Dr. Proctor is a board-certified forensic psychologist who has testified for the State on numerous capital murder cases across Texas.
He is well renowned for his honesty, accuracy, and expertise in criminal forensic psychology. After lengthy testing, evaluation, and a review of all available information, Dr. Proctor has come to the conclusion that Mr. Garcia-Zavala is Intellectually Disabled under the Supreme Court standard. After receiving Dr. Proctor’s findings, I consulted with other District Attorneys, Capital Murder Prosecutors with the Texas Attorney General’s Office, and other experts in the field.
Unfortunately, all these experts have agreed that due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings, the State of Texas cannot execute Mr. Garcia-Zavala. Thus, under the Supreme Court s rulings, the maximum punishment for this defendant is Life in Prison Without Parole. Since November of 2016, Kayla’s family has lived through a nightmare no family should ever have to know.
They experienced fear when Kayla went missing, hope that she might be found safe, anguish when her body was discovered, and outrage when the perpetrator, one of their own family, was caught. As the events have been reported, our community has grieved along with them.
While few of us will ever truly know what they have endured, all of us have felt the burn of righteous anger against this monster who took this innocent child’s life. In January of 2017, my predecessor, Matt Bingham, sought an indictment from the grand jury for Capital Murder.
After indictment, he elected for the District Attorney’s Office to seek the ultimate punishment and see Mr. Garcia-Zavala executed for his horrendous crime. The decision was absolutely the right decision. Mr. Garcia-Zavala deserves to die for what he did, and there will never be any question in my mind that he deserves the death penalty.
When I took office in January of 2019, Kayla’s case became my case, and I have been committed to seeking the death penalty. However, under the current law, there is no legal way to seek the death penalty in this case. I still firmly believe that the death penalty is the only proper punishment for Mr. Garcia-Zavala, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled otherwise.
Let me be clear, I do not believe that the standard set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court results in justice for Kayla’s family or our community. If there were any legal way to ensure that Mr. Garcia-Zavala would face the death penalty, I would persist.
However, I took an oath to uphold the rule of law. While I strongly disagree with the law the Supreme Court has given us, I am bound to follow it. The Supreme Court has denied Kayla’s family and our community the justice they deserve.
Faced with the reality of the state of the law and knowing there would be no way to achieve a valid death sentence, we entered into a plea agreement with Mr. Garcia-Zavala that resulted in Life Without Parole. He will never be released, and he will die in prison.
I have discussed and explained all this prior to today with Kayla’s family and the law enforcement officers who tirelessly worked on this case. I would ask all of you to continue to pray as I do for Kayla’s family as they continue to mourn.” Jacob Putman Smith County Criminal District Attorney
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