Day 2 of Brownwood man's murder trial: Witness says he heard 3 gunshots


BROWNWOOD, Texas - Prosecutors, during opening statements Tuesday, described a longstanding feud between two Brownwood neighbors that eventually exploded into the death of one.

Michael John Zarate, 34, is on trial for murder and tampering/fabricating with evidence in the 35th Judicial District Court.

Zarate is accused of killing 34-year-old Ernesto Gonzales Jr. near the victim's home on the 1300 block of Brady Avenue in November of 2014.

In court, District Attorney Micheal Murray said Gonzales and Zarate lived next door to each other. He told a jury the two were constantly getting into verbal arguments and even fought once, which resulted in Zarate allegedly biting a portion of Gonzales's ear off.

Defense attorney Tommy Adams declined to give opening remarks, but instead took to cross-examining the state's witnesses.

Gonzales lived in a house along Brady Avenue with three of his six children and wife. Zarate shared a home with his former girlfriend at the time, Crystal Newingham.

Murray described tension between the victim and the defendant on the day of the alleged murder on Nov. 2, 2014.

Zarate reportedly left his home that Sunday evening with a 9mm gun in his hand -- a silencer attached, according to Murray.

The district attorney described a scene where Gonzales spotted the gun and began to run away from Zarate.

A neighbor testified on Tuesday that he heard three gun shots.

Gary Holland said he was standing at the alley where the alleged shooting happened, when the gunshots went off.

Holland told the jury he saw Gonzales lying on his back asking for help. By the time Holland called 911, which was played in full in court, he said Gonzales died.

Two other neighbors, Jonathan Ochoa and Arnold Mendoza, testified they were unloading groceries from a pick-up truck when they hired gun shots.

They told the court they reportedly saw Gonzales staggering into the alley appearing as if he was shot.

Ochoa told the court he heard another gun shot before Gonzales fell to the ground.

Zarate kept shaking his head throughout the testimonies.

Several members of Gonzales's family were in attendance in the courtroom and were visibly shaken by photos shown of his body lying in the alley near Brady Avenue.

T.J. Holland was also called to the witness stand. He described himself as a best friend to Gonzales.

Holland told the court the source of the tension between Gonzales and Zarate was due to alleged child sex crimes against the defendant.

Gonzales was worried for his two young daughters who lived with him next door to Zarate, according to testimony.

Zarate was arrested in 2013 for aggravated sexual assault of a child and indecency with a child, according to court documents.

Murray said Zarate's trial for those offenses was set to begin the week after he allegedly shot Gonzales.

Newingham also took the witness stand Tuesday. She said she first met Zarate in 2011 and they soon after began dating. She also recounted how Zarate and Gonzales didn't get along.

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