SAGUACHE — Day three of the Charles M. Gonzales trial for the murder of mountain bike enthusiast Michael Rust began with the lengthy testimony of Gonzales’s father, Guadalupe “Lupe” Gonzales, concerning his son’s activities before and after Rust’s disappearance.
G. Gonzales, during his examination by 12th Judicial District Attorney Crista Newmyer-Olsen, described the property he owned in Moffat where he once raised livestock – property where the remains of Michael Rust were discovered in 2015. He stopped keeping animals there 25 years ago, he told Newmyer-Olsen, but after that his grandchildren played in their clubhouse on the portion of the property where Rust’s remains eventually were found.
Sometime before January 2015, G. Gonzales said, then sheriff Mike Norris asked him if he could come out to his property and dig into some of the holes there. Gonzales replied sure, as long as he could be there when they came. At the time, however, Gonzales’s wife was ill and he had to postpone the dig, he explained. Later she passed away and Gonzales said Norris “gave me time” before he asked again.
In the meantime, G. Gonzales said, he spoke to his son Charles in late 2015 (December) and told him the sheriff wanted to dig up the holes. That is when Charles told his father they couldn’t dig “because they will find him,” as his girlfriend Susan Lewis testified Thursday. Lewis was with Gonzales during the visit. Gonzales’s voice rose and he became agitated on the stand as he recounted the visit.
“Charles said he [Rust]was shooting and following him, came onto the land and he told me ‘he was going to kill me.’ He said he whacked him with a board and he fell down. According to G. Gonzales, Charles also told him, “It was either him or me.” G. Gonzales asked Charles why he did not call the cops “then and there, those were my exact words. Between that and my wife, I was gone.”
Newmyer-Olsen asked him if he became physically ill when Charles told him about the body and he replied “a little bit.” Newmyer-Olsen then asked if during the interview with Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) agent Pat Crouch G. Gonzales had told him he had to puke and he said he probably did tell him that.
Newmyer-Olsen next questioned him about the tan truck G. Gonzales bought for Charles and he said he bought it for his son to haul wood. G. Gonzales said his son Charles told him “it is full of bullet holes.” Newmyer-Olsen then asked if G. Gonzales had ever seen bullet holes in the truck, and he said “no.” He told the prosecutor his son sold the truck shortly after Rust’s disappearance because “it wasn’t running anymore.”
Newmyer-Olsen next asked if the truck was in good running order, because, she said, this is what he told Agent Crouch in the interview. G. Gonzales said he knew it was burning oil when he bought it and “wouldn’t last.” But he added that he “couldn’t understand” why his son sold the truck. Newmyer-Olsen restated that Charles had crouched in front of the pick-up, then hit Rust with a board, according to the account heard by his father.
“Did he ever mention the man was shot?” she asked G. Gonzales. “Did he say what he did with the gun?” Gonzales answered no to both questions. Next Newmyer-Olsen queried if he knew Susan Lewis and G. Gonzales said yes, she was with him when they talked to Charles in December 2015. “Did he ask you to move the body?” she questioned.
“Yes,” Gonzales replied, indicating he refused to do it. The next thing he did, Gonzales said, was to call police.
Public defender Amanda Hopkins questioned G. Gonzales about corral poles at his property, and he told her they were laying all over his property. He said he could not remember exactly when Charles broke his leg but said it was broken before Rust disappeared.
When Hopkins asked if Charles parked his truck a special way to hide the bullet holes, G. Gonzales said yes, he had. G. Gonzales denied that he and/or his son had ever trespassed on Rust’s land while on the way to gather wood.
During her redirect, Newmyer-Olsen asked if Charles told his father he hit Rust with a board or a (corral) pole. G. Gonzales said he “couldn’t remember.” Gonzales also told her the main gate to his property is always chained and locked, and there are a few corral poles near the main gate, also another interior gate by the holes he used to separate his horses from the other animals.
Newmyer-Olsen then asked when he thought Charles suffered his leg injury, “possibly late 2008?” G. Gonzales replied: “Yes.”
“Was it a cast or a boot?” Newmyer-Olsen continued along the same lines. “It was both,” G. Gonzales answered. “He had the cast, then later a boot.”
Coroner Tom Perrin
Saguache County Coroner Tom Perrin was next on the stand, and told Deputy DA Brandon Willms he has served as coroner for Saguache County for 20 years. He verified that items were delivered to him with Rust’s body from the gravesite that were used to help make a tentative identification prior to the autopsy by Dr. Brux in El Paso County.
Perrin was able to confirm he had signed the death certificate and indicated the manner of death but was not allowed to say what he had listed as the cause of death. Public Defender Victor Short cross-examined Perrin and pointed out there are several causes of death on a list for the death certificate that could have been checked — natural causes, suicide, homicide undetermined, pending investigation, and so forth.
“But there was no option to include self-defense,” Short noted, “and nowhere to mark ‘possible homicide.” Perrin replied yes to both questions, but pointed out that much of what Short was referring to depended on circumstances.
Newmyer-Olsen next approached Judge Jane Tidball to object to Tidball’s interpretation of hearsay evidence. She read the legal definition for hearsay to Tidball and the two discussed it at length, with Newmyer-Olsen insisting Tidball was not interpreting it correctly and Tidball insisting she was. Tidball eventually agreed to read Newmyer-Olsen’s brief on the subject and get back to her.
CBI agent Joseph Cahill
CBI Agent Joseph Cahill testified next. His testimony was punctuated with numerous pauses for counsel to consult with the judge, as was Perrin’s. Cahill said he has a background in Army counter-intelligence, 20 years in law enforcement and two years with CBI.
Cahill confirmed to Wllms he was present for the autopsy. He testified that Dr. Brux did find the second small indentation on Rust’s head fit the rim of a Maglite found with the body.
He also told public defender Hopkins that wooden poles were found near the gravesite, but no bullets were found. There were “several” shell casings found at the site matching a .22 caliber weapon, but Cahill said he could not say whether the casings were all identical or were fired from the same gun. He speculated that they were all of the same metal, however.
Jurors posed questions for Cahill, asking if he had asked Charles Gonzales about his leg injury. Cahill said he had, and Gonzales told him he had worn a boot for a prior injury. When asked if during the autopsy there was any examination made for internal bullet marks or an exit wound Cahill replied, “not to my knowledge.”
Following Cahill’s testimony, Judge Tidball asked Newmyer-Olsen and the public defenders who they had scheduled to testify Monday and Tuesday. Newmyer =Olsen said she had six set to testify on Monday and five on Tuesday and then the defense could present its witnesses.
Tidball excused the jurors and asked them to return at 8:25 Monday morning.