Smith County judge denies request for discovery by Bullard man who killed 10-year-old girl

Smith County judge denies request for discovery by Bullard man who killed 10-year-old girl
Gustavo Zavala-Garcia (Source: TDCJ)

TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - During a Zoom hearing Tuesday, a Smith County district judge denied a motion from Gustavo Zavala-Garcia’s defense attorneys that asked for the discovery in the capital murder case be released to their client.

The hearing was held in Judge Jack Skeen’s 241st Judicial District Court. In addition to Skeen, Smith County District Attorney Jacob Putnam, and defense attorneys Brett Harrison and Jeff Haas, Zavala-Garcia attended the Zoom meeting from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Telford Unit.

A translator translated the court proceedings for Zavala-Garcia.

On Aug. 22, Zavala-Garcia pleaded guilty to capital murder and was sentenced to life in prison in connection with the death of 10-year-old Kayla Gomez-Orozco on Aug. 22, 2019.

Kayla 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, a re-trail, and an appeal and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The state requested the death penalty in the case. However, according to the Smith County District Attorney’s Office, the United States Supreme Court issued two rulings that severely limit the state from seeking the death penalty if there is a finding of intellectual disability. Exams requested by the state concluded that Zavala-Garcia has an intellectual disability.

After taking “judicial notice” of all the proceedings prior to Tuesday’s hearing, Skeen asked Harrison to explain the motion, which was filed on Feb. 1. He said that Zavala-Garcia sent him requesting the discovery on Jan. 27.

Harrison said they filed a motion with the court because they believed state law prohibited them from turning discovery over to their client without the court’s permission.

Skeen also heard from Smith County District Attorney Jacob Putnam, who filed an objection to the motion on Feb. 2. Putnam explained that the state provided extensive discovery to Zavala-Garcia’s defense attorneys before their client was convicted.

“Specifically, we object to items 3, 6, and 9 on the motion,” Putnam said.

The district attorney said section 39.14 of the criminal code prohibits the state from turning any of its discovery over to defense attorneys. He added that the state provided the defense team with every item of discovery they were entitled to.

Harrison said that they have no position contrary to state law and that they wanted to get a court ruling on the motion before they took any further steps.

“We’ll abide by whatever the court says,” Haas told Skeen.

Skeen said that he had reviewed the motion and the objection and that he has decided to sustain the state’s objection and deny the motion to release discovery to Zavala-Garcia’s defense attorneys.

On Jan. 27, Zavala-Garcia sent a letter to J. Brett Harrison, one of his defense attorneys. In the letter, the convicted murderer requested a digital copy (CD/DVD/USD) of all documents and items dealing with discovery, so he can forward it to his family. He also requested a condensed and duplexed paper copy of the electrically stored and the non-electronically stored portions of the case file.

Zavala-Garcia’s letter said the file should include:

  • all correspondence of any type
  • all volumes of the clerk’s and reporter’s records produced and filed in the case
  • all documents and items received by counsel from any person or entity related to the case
  • all notes and other work product generated in the case
  • all pleadings and other papers drafted and or filed by any party in the case
  • all discovery items
  • all orders of appointments or substitution appearances
  • counsel’s most recently filed mandatory disclosure of the percentage of appointed work
  • all other documents and items not specified
  • index of withheld or redacted documents items along with an explanation for the withholdings or redactions.

In his motion, Harrison acknowledged that the written discovery in the case is “voluminous.” It consists of 6,615 date-stamped pages of written discovery.

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