SAGUACHE — During testimony in the trial of Charles Gonzales for the murder of Mike Rust Monday, a fellow inmate told 12th Judicial District Attorney Crista Newmyer-Olsen that Gonzales described murdering a man and transporting his body for burial.
Philip Romero, the last witness for the day Monday, said Gonzales asked him for an opinion concerning a case he was about to present to his lawyers. According to Romero: “He told me he passed the property and he was having problems at one time coming down [from the mountains]. He got into a staring contest with this guy, said he got out of the truck and shot him.”
Gonzales also told Romero he “broke into his house, stole a gun and shot him with his own gun. He also said something about some marijuana. Said he had a hard time putting his body into the back of the truck and he took and buried him.”
Romero said Gonzales told him he turned the story around in talking to his lawyers, telling them the other person had the gun and he only shot him in self-defense, in the chest or stomach area. Romero said he later had Gonzales’s story investigated and reported to Saguache County officials.
Newmyer-Olsen asked him why he decided to testify and he said, “It bothered me. I wanted to get it off my chest.” He also testified that he had made a plea deal with authorities for early release after serving 14 years of his 16-year sentence. He additionally told Newmyer-Olsen he had never heard the name Michael Rust before.
During cross examination, public defender Victor Short asked Romero if he was serving time on first-degree criminal trespassing and a felony menacing charge, also another charge, and Romero said he was. “In testifying today, you’re getting what you want,” Short said to Romero, referring to his release upon truthful testimony. “Yes,” Romero replied.
It took some prompting from Short for Romero to admit he would be released immediately and knew when he signed the agreement for release this would be the case. Romero insisted he was only “repeating what was told to me.” He also said that now Gonzales knows he has testified against him he is scared of him, a statement Short challenged.
Short played several videos of recorded statements by Romero in an attempt to demonstrate discrepancies in his statements. On redirect, Newmyer-Olsen asked Romero to view the agreement he signed to testify and secure his early release. How do you interpret “fully cooperate?” she asked Romero. “To testify and tell the truth, to tell you what he told me,” Romero replied.
“If there is no agreement, you are getting out in a year and a half at most?” Newmyer-Olsen asked, and Romero agreed. She also questioned, as Short had done, if Romero was truly concerned for his safety because he had testified.
“Is there a question of your safety?” DA Newmyer-Olsen asked. “There always is,” Romero replied, concluding his testimony.
CBI DNA specialist Stephanie Trahey
Prior to Romero’s testimony, CBI DNA specialist Stephanie Trahey testified at length, explaining the intricacies of DNA testing and her participation in analyzing evidence from the Rust case. Trahey told the court she has been the laboratory manager for CBI for three and a half years and worked prior to that, beginning in 2002, as a forensic scientist for CBI. The following important points were made by Trahey during her testimony:
• She found no DNA in Rust’s skull bone.
• Rust’s tooth profile taken from the burial site matched other DNA profiles taken from his relatives.
• The DNA on the binoculars in Rust’s home described as “mixed DNA” did not match Charles Gonzales or any other persons of interest in the case when run through CODIS.
• Blood and DNA on the vest found outside Rust’s home shortly after his disappearance did contain his blood and DNA when compared to other samples of DNA referenced earlier.
• Several items tested did not yield any meaningful blood or DNA results.
• Trahey admitted to the defense there is always the possibility of DNA transfer from one item to the other in handling various pieces of evidence.
Evidence accepted as proven
Judge Jane Tidball, prior to Trahey’s testimony, read the following to the jury as evidence agreed to by the district attorney’s office and the defense:
• DNA taken from Rust’s toothbrush, razor and the bloodstains on the back of Rust’s gray fleece vest, according to testing by a private laboratory based on DNA submitted by Rust’s mother and brother Karl, were found to be 99.9 percent positive in identifying the remains found on the Gonzales property as Michael Rust’s.
• On expert examination, no latent fingerprints were found on the revolver recovered or the motorcycle helmet or motorcycle.
• The mixture of blood found on Rust’s fleece vest, sent to a private laboratory by the Saguache Sheriff’s Office for DNA and blood confirmation, was found to contain mixed DNA primarily belonging to Rust. A profile on the second contributor was not able to be developed.
• There was no blood DNA on the gun.
• Stained vegetation in the area where the motorcycle ridden by Rust was discovered matched other samples confirmed as Rust’s DNA.
• No latent fingerprints were discovered or developed by fingerprint experts on the binoculars in Rust’s home or the lens caps, or items found at the burial site, including: the Maglite, various aluminum cans, Cheetos and potato chip bags, a miniature Snicker’s bar wrapper and liquor bottles.
Others testifying Monday included Saguache County deputies Wayne Clark and Tyler Harford, Saguache County Lt. Richard Pascoe, CBI crime scene analyst Kevin Forest and Michel Rust’s brother Paul.