Rust murder trial now in jury's hands
SAGUACHE — The defense rested its case Wednesday in the Charles M. Gonzales trial, and after a lengthy consultation with the judge the prosecution and defense attorneys presented closing arguments in the afternoon.
12th Judicial District Attorney Crista Newmyer-Olsen presented a video of Rust’s last days, chronicling his disappearance, the events surrounding it, the course of the investigation and finally the discovery of his body six and a half years later.
Her timeline covered:
- Rust’s 7 p.m. call March 31, 2009 to his girlfriend, Mary Ann Bravaria, after returning home from a shopping trip, telling her someone had been in his house, moved his binoculars and taken his gun, and he was going after them.
- Braveria tried calling Rust back several times, but couldn’t reach him, so she called his brother Paul in Colorado Springs.
- Paul drove to his brother’s home arriving about 2 a.m. Frozen foods were left on the floor of the entryway and Mike was nowhere in sight. Family members searched for a long time, then called the Saguache County Sheriff’s Office.
- About half a mile east of Rust’s home, deputies found Rust’s blood-stained gray fleece vest, two pools of blood and the handle from Mike’s treasured gun that had belonged to his brother Joe.
- Volunteers searched on foot, on horseback, by plane and by helicopter. Tracking dogs found his scent but lost it when it went south on County Road 5300, near his home.
- A little over a month later, the motorcycle Rust was riding was discovered in a ravine about 20 miles east of his home. There was blood on the motorcycle seat and foot clutch.
- Over the years, various scenarios were given by Gonzales to law enforcement officials and relatives, also a fellow prisoner, about what actually happened to Rust.
Newmyer-Olsen told jurors that their job was to use common sense and decide. She pointed to the hole in Rust’s skull as described by El Paso County Coroner Robert Brux, reminding jurors it was an entry wound accompanied by beveling in the skull bone. “There’s no defense that explains these injuries,” she emphasized. “There are eight different scenarios [given by Gonzales] and not one addresses these injuries.”
She then went over each scenario, pointing out discrepancies. First Gonzales said he knew nothing about Rust’s disappearance. Then he said he told DA office investigator Harry Alejo he ground up the bones and threw them into the river. Next he said he found Rust’s jawbone and wanted to claim the $10,000 reward.
Then there was a wild tale about how Rust was murdered by the Mexican Mafia over a cocaine deal by someone named “little Ray,” who murdered him out him in a truck and dumped him in a canyon. Then there was the letter to Susan Lewis, followed by the conversation with Lewis and his father while he was in prison on other charges. Now he murdered Rust, but it was in self-defense. The story to inmate Philip Romero repeats the self-defense angle.
“Which of these stories was true? None of them,” Newmyer-Olsen explained. She asked jurors to find Gonzales guilty on all charges — first-degree murder with deliberative intent, felony first degree murder, burglary, theft, tampering with physical evidence and abuse of a corpse.
Public defender speaks
Amanda Hopkins with the public defender’s office pointed out that Rust made it clear he was going after someone who broke into his home. He took off after him with a loaded gun. She questioned whether the burglary happened at all.
She used Gonzales’ own more recent scenario where Rust chased him, cornered him on his father’s property and shot at him and he shot back to defend himself, killing Rust. (Newmyer-Olsen said given the amounts of blood found near Rust’s home and he fact the blood ran down the back of his fleece jacket, there is no way he could have followed Gonzales six miles into his property.)
Hopkins said contrary to what the prosecution maintains, Rust had a bad temper and it had grown worse in the year prior to his death. She asked why more had not been done to check into bike tracks found near Rust’s home, claiming nothing suggests Gonzales ever drove anything but a truck.
She leaned heavily on Romero’s testimony, claiming he testified entirely for personal gain and had served only nine years of a 16-year sentence for three different felonies. She said Romero gave a Weld County detective plenty of reasons why he needed to get out of jail, and it had little to do with getting the story about Rust off his chest.
She questioned the physical evidence and said there is nothing that says the blunt force wounds to the back of Rust’s head could not have been caused by a corral pole, as Gonzales maintains. She pointed out that he did admit his stories were not true when at one point during an interview Gonzales told Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) agent Pat Crouch he lied.
Hopkins also claimed Gonzales told law enforcement officials things that checked out as true, and this should also be considered. She asked jurors to remember they must remember the true meaning of reasonable doubt, which does not mean that it is the equivalent of “equally likely.” She asked them to take their time and find him not guilty.
Judge Jane Tidball gave jurors their final instructions prior to the presentations by Newmyer-Olsen and Hopkins and finished the instructions before sending them to deliberate. Jurors began deliberations at approximately 5 p.m.