Family of slain Brownwood man hopes for closure with Zarate's life sentence
BROWNWOOD, Texas - All last week the family of Ernesto Gonzales has sat in the 35th Judicial District Court listening to testimony after testimony of how Michael John Zarate killed their 34-year-old dad, brother, and son.
But on Friday a jury found Zarate, 34, guilty of murder and tampering/fabricating with evidence for shooting his neighbor on November 2, 2015 and then tossing the gun.
Zarate killed Gonzales on the 1300 block of Brady Avenue as the victim sat in his lawn drinking a beer.
"He belongs in one place and that's behind bars," Paul Espinoza, one of Gonzales' six siblings, said shortly after last week's guilty verdict was announced.
It took a jury less than 45 minutes to find Zarate guilty of both charges. The 12 person jury spent even less time than that sentencing Zarate to life without parole.
Once the punishment was announced, Zarate became irate behind the defendant's desk. District Court Judge Stephen Ellis ordered the bailiffs to immediately take Zarate away.
District Attorney Micheal Murray called Omar Ramirez, one of Gonzales' brothers, to take the witness stand during the sentencing phase.
Ramirez told the court his family feels lost without their brother
"He was just someone I can reach out to...you know, that's something that was taken away from us," Ramirez told KTXS. "He was more than a brother. He was a best friend. He was a father figure."
Murray also called Zarate's former girlfriend Crystal Newingham to testify during sentencing.
Newingham told the court Zarate would beat her three to four times a week during their five-year relationship.
She said he once broke her nose and then continued punching her until she became unconscious. Newingham recalled several instances when Zarate sexually assaulted her.
In addition, Newingham said there was one point where she was 15 weeks pregnant and Zarate kicked her in the stomach with steel-toe boots. She ended up losing the child.
Another one of Gonzales' brothers told KTXS he taught them how to grow up into being well-rounded, successful men.
"How to stay strong and be there for anyone and everyone around him. That's just who our big brother was," Espinoza said.
The most emotional testimony came from one of Gonzales' children.
His 15-year-old daughter broke down on the witness stand after assistant district attorney Elisha Bird asked her questions regarding her father's death.
The teenager told the court she became depressed and attempted to commit suicide.
She ended up receiving therapeutic help, but doesn't believe another man will ever take her father Ernesto Gonzales's place.
Previous KTXS stories on Zarate's murder trial:
Trial underway for Brownwood man accused of murder man in 2014 --}} http://www.ktxs.com/news/murder-trial-underway-for- brownwood -man-accused-of-killing-man-in-2014/619249864
Day 2 of Brownwood murder trial: Witness says he heard 3 gunshots --}} http://www.ktxs.com/news/day-2-of- brownwood -mans-murder-trial-witness-says-he-heard-three- gunshots2 /619712749
Day 3 of Brownwood murder trial: Zarate's ex-girlfriend says he killed neighbor --}} http://www.ktxs.com/news/day-3-of- brownwood -murder-trial- zarates -ex-girlfriend-says-he-killed-neighbor/620131567
Day 4 of Brownwood murder trial: Investigators say evidence points to Zarate as killer --}} http://www.ktxs.com/news/day-4-of- brownwood -murder-trial-investigators-say-evidence-points-to- zarate -as- killer2 /620850378