Day 3 of Brownwood murder trial: Zarate's ex-girlfriend says he killed neighbor


BROWNWOOD, Texas - The former girlfriend of a Brownwood man on trial for murder testified Wednesday that she, without a doubt, believes her ex-boyfriend killed his neighbor.

Michael John Zarate, 34, is on trial at the 35th Judicial District Court for murder and tampering/fabricating with evidence. He's accused of killing 34-year-old Ernesto Gonzales Jr.

Zarate's ex-girlfriend, Crystal Newingham, said she witnessed the murder on Nov. 2, 2014. It happened on the 1300 block of Brady Avenue near the home she shared with the defendant.

Throughout her testimony, Zarate held a fixed emotionless stare at his ex-girlfriend.

Gonzales Jr., the victim, lived next door to the couple with his three young children and wife.

On Tuesday, District Attorney Micheal Murray told the court that tension had built up between the two neighbors, which exploded into that shooting.

Newingham, who married a few months ago and now goes by McConnell, said she called Zarate's mom on the day of the alleged murder and told her that "he killed a neighbor."

She also spoke with her mother that day and said she witnessed a murder.

Murray questioned her in court as to why it took her three days after the alleged murder to cooperate with law enforcement. When she was first questioned on Nov. 2, she gave officers misinformation.

Newingham said she feared for her safety because of Zarate.

During law enforcement interrogation on Nov. 5, Texas Ranger Jason Shea and Brownwood Police Detective Aaron Taylor presented her with evidence contradicting her story.

She admitted to trying to cover for Zarate and gave them the location of where he disposed of the gun he used to allegedly kill Gonzales.

Officers later located pieces of 9mm gun and a silencer near the Vine Street underpass.

Brownwood Police Detective Brian Tompkins said officers found a bullet hole under Gonzales' left arm. Under his right armpit, they could see a bullet poking through.

Dr. Kendall Crowns with the Travis County Medical Examiner's Office performed the autopsy on Gonzales' body.

He ruled his death as a homicide and testified in court that the fatal bullet went through Gonzales' left and right lungs and the top of his heart.

Dr. Crowns said it hit every important part of the body that a person needs to live.

When photos were shown of Gonzales' autopsy throughout the doctor's testimony, several of his family members were in tears and left the court room.

Zarate's murder trial resumes on Thursday at 9 a.m. and District Attorney Micheal Murray expects it to finish by Friday.

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