Coroner testifies at murder trial

SAGUACHE — During the second day of testimony in the trial of Charles Moises Gonzales, 47, accused of murdering mountain bike crafter Michael Rust in 2009, the jury heard testimony from a host of witnesses including El Paso County Coroner Robert C. Brux, M.D.

Superior Court Judge Jane A. Tidball from the Denver area is presiding at the trial.

Responding to questions directed by 12th Judicial District Attorney Crista Newmyer-Olsen, Brux explained that when the skeleton of Michael Rust was discovered on the property of Charles Gonzales’s father, Guadalupe, it was mainly intact with only the right tibia, fibula, coccyx, and windpipe membranes and a few finger bones missing.

“It’s wonderful when someone thinks they know the identity of the remains,” he told Newmyer-Olsen. “It puts us months ahead versus someone who is ‘nameless.’” He added that the skeleton was “almost complete. It’s always nice to have everything.”

The mandible of the skeleton was still intact and Rust was identified through dental records.

Brux said he found internal beveling from a gunshot wound to the back of the skull, but no knife marks on the bone. He concluded by restating that the cause of death was a gunshot wound and manner of death was determined to be a homicide.

Public defender Victor Short asked Brux if the remains were more difficult to analyze without soft tissue to examine. Brux conceded it was but said while he couldn’t say what does cause an injury he can say what wouldn’t work. Brux agreed a smaller fracture to the back of Rust’s head resulted from blunt force trauma and the cavity in the skull “came from behind” was caused by a gunshot wound.

He said he could not say what course it took through the brain, what caliber it was, or whether it ricocheted. The bullet was not recovered with the remains. Rust confirmed that Saguache County deputies and Colorado Bureau of Investigation agents were present at the autopsy.

On cross-examination by Newmyer-Olsen, Brux said a flashlight found with the remains fit the indentation and could account for the smaller skull injury. “I laid it beside the skull and it fits,” he said. But he told Short that he could not tell for sure if the indentation was caused by the flashlight.

CSP accident investigator Crowther
Next on the stand was Colorado State Patrol accident investigator Garth Crowther, who was called to the scene where the motorcycle Rust was riding was discovered in May 2009.

Crowther testified that based on his training and long years of experience, while he could not say how long the motorbike had been out there, he was certain it had not been ridden down the embankment, but rather had been dumped over the side.

District Attorney Chief Investigator Harry Alejo was then called to the stand and the prosecution played a tape of Alejo’s interview with Charles Gonzales in August of 2011. In the course of the interview, Gonzales clearly said, “I’ve figured out where Michael Rust is.” Much of the tape presentation was unintelligible and the jury requested to see a transcript. Alejo told them he did not believe one exists.

Gonzales’s girlfriend, Lewis
Susan Lewis, Gonzales’s former live-in girlfriend, took the stand next. Lewis told Newmyer-Olsen she had been living with Gonzales “on and off” for 15 years. Lewis detailed to the prosecution how through phone conversations and letters, also a visit to see Gonzales in prison Dec. 27, 2015, she had learned of his involvement in the Rust case.

Lewis explained that when she visited Gonzales in prison, his father, Guadalupe, was also present. The elder Gonzales told his son the police were going to search his ranch for Rust’s remains. According to Lewis, Gonzales said: “They are going to find him.” Charles Gonzales then went on to say to Lewis that Rust had confronted him in the mountains and followed him to the ranch. He then hit Rust with something on the back of his head and he fell in the hole.

Lewis was overcome with emotion during her testimony regarding Rust’s demise, but quickly recovered and continued to answer the prosecution’s questions.

On cross examination by Short, Lewis said she told CBI agents the story in January 2016 and drew a map of the ranch for them. She also identified a blanket found with the body, saying she had seen it at the ranch. She did verify blankets were kept in a shed on the property that was unlocked. Lewis also told Short that Gonzales was injured while gathering wood and for a while wore a boot-type cast around the time of Rust’s death.

Jurors asked additional questions about Gonzales’s leg injury.

FS/BLM employee Sanchez
Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management employee Steven Sanchez reminded the court before testifying that he was not doing so in his official capacity as an employee of the federal government. He said he knew both Rust and Gonzales and had seen Rust the night before his disappearance.  

At the time, he said he had been called by Rust over a dispute he was having with a neighbor. When Rust came up missing, Sanchez said he used GIS to help deputies look for him but quit after a few months when he found nothing.

Gonzales’s son Michael testifies
Charles Gonzales’s son Michael testified he spoke to Saguache County Deputy Wayne Clark about Rust’s whereabouts in October of 2015 “because he already knew about it.” Clark picked Michael up in Saguache after seeing him at a local store and drove him to the property where they met Guadalupe Gonzales.

He spent 10-15 minutes there, he told Deputy District Attorney Brandon Willms and “showed him where the hole was.”

Michael told Willms the hole was originally dug out for an underground clubhouse when he was about 12 years old but was never filled in.
Deputy Wayne Clark’s testimony
Clark took the witness stand next and told Willms he had received an anonymous tip on Rust’s whereabouts Oct. 19 and had picked up Michael Gonzales when he saw him at a local store on Oct. 20 to check it out.

He confirmed to Willms he was wearing a body cam unit and recorded the finding of Rust’s body shortly thereafter.

Clark also was present at the autopsy performed by Dr. Brux.

Judge Tidball closed testimony with Deputy Clark and adjourned the proceedings until 8:30 a.m. Friday morning.

She told the jury the trial is going well and is ahead of schedule.