Police interview played for court in De La Cruz murder trial

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In an interview conducted 11 days after Julie Ann Gonzalez’s March 26, 2010 disappearance, estranged husband George De La Cruz told a detective she was acting strange and despondent the day she was last seen. He also casually shrugged off questions about whether he may have played a part in Gonzalez’s disappearance while expressing concern for her and urging the detective to find her. However, Detective James Scott said on the stand Thursday that with the benefit of hindsight, there were red flags in De La Cruz’s responses not apparent at the time of the interview.

Five years later, De La Cruz is now on trial for Gonzalez’s murder, although the young mother was never found.

The jury saw two different videotaped interviews on Thursday morning, both in the weeks following Gonzalez’s disappearance. In the first interview, Scott tells De La Cruz there was no reason to suspect foul play was involved based on the information at the time. De La Cruz willingly gave the interview at Police Headquarters and appeared relaxed, talkative and inquisitive about any possible leads detectives had on the case.

At one point, Scott tells De La Cruz that Gonzalez’s family thought he killed her.

“No,” he calmly responds. “I have my daughter. I wouldn’t do that.”

Later in the interview, De La Cruz asks Scott questions indicating he is concerned about his and his family’s safety. He said he was “freaked out” about his neighbor’s report of a mysterious man seen driving Gonzalez’s car to and from De La Cruz’s home the day of the disappearance. Possible pressure from the Gonzalez family also concerned him.

“I know they [the Gonzalez family] see me as a suspect. I’m OK with that, but I’m afraid for my family,” said De La Cruz while asking Scott what he should do for protection.

Scott told the jury that the line of questioning for someone who is a witness is much different from interviewing a suspect. De La Cruz told Scott that Gonzalez seemed despondent and was possibly on drugs. Still, he offered no idea as to where she may have gone.

“She comes in a very weird-looking way. Never seen her that way. Looking down, like she wasn’t focused,” the jury heard De La Cruz tell police during an interview with detectives.

De La Cruz referred to his daughter, Layla, during the interview as “my daughter,” rather than “our daughter” — something Scott told the jury was odd or a raised a red flag only in hindsight. De La Cruz tells Scott that Layla would be better off in his hands than someone else, though the jury has heard from earlier testimony that Gonzalez feared leaving Layla with him.

When detectives ask De La Cruz about his neighbor’s account of a stranger arriving at his house with Gonzalez’s car, all he could say was that he was freaked out by it and that he did not know who the person was. Scott tells De La Cruz that Gonzalez’s mom thinks he killed her, to which he says he did not and says he would not because of his daughter.

During the interview, Scott tells De La Cruz a couple of times that Gonzalez’s family suspects he played a part in her disappearance. Still, the jury sees De La Cruz continue to answer questions, and he has no change in demeanor. Instead, De La Cruz replies with insinuations that Gonzalez’s family might know something about her disappearance that they are not revealing. Scott tells him that no foul play is suspected, saying it is a wide-open investigation but that he wanted to hear his side of the story. That’s when De La Cruz begins to speculate, saying Gonzalez might be waiting for things to calm down because if she came back, she’d get heat for leaving.

A talkative De La Cruz with no apparent nervousness continues on with the interview, asking Scott what he should do if he gets harassed or feels his family is in trouble. Inquisitive, De La Cruz asks Scott if he has any leads on where she might be, and he ends the interview by asking the detective if there is anything he can do to help — urging Scott to find her and tell her to come back.

In two interviews, De La Cruz never told Scott he had used Gonzalez’s debit cards at Walmart, nor did he ever mention physical or verbal abuse.

During Scott’s testimony, he discussed how missing adults are classified and investigated by police and when homicide investigators ultimately get involved. Scott explained to the courtroom that it is odd for someone to say they are going to Colorado, rather than a specific location, such as Denver or Colorado Springs. He also added that typically, when a missing person is making texts, they are not usually victims of foul play, so the urgency for investigators is downgraded.

Given Gonzalez’s up-and-down relationship with her mother, Scott said it wasn’t totally out of the realm of possibilities that she would be a runaway. Scott also pointed out that when someone is sending texts saying they want to be left along, it is more difficult for a judge to sign an order for tracking a phone.

Scott told the jury that several members of the Gonzalez family were constantly calling him, and he would tell them that he could not give them updates on an hourly basis. Still, he conveyed to the jury that it was understandable and fair that a parent would want the latest information — though he pointed to limited time and resources.

An interesting twist did arise during Scott’s testimony. He said psychics had gotten involved, but no leads ever turned up anything for investigators. After interviewing De La Cruz, Scott says he figured out he was the last person to see Gonzalez and hear her voice. As he had told others, De La Cruz told Scott that Gonzalez had asked him to watch Layla for the weekend because she had something to do, Scott told the jury.

Search Warrant Pictures

In afternoon testimony, photographs from inside George De La Cruz’s home were shown for the jury. The search took place in May 2010, two months after Gonzalez vanished. One of the items found was a torn-up picture of Gonzalez which has been taped back together. A DVD, baby shampoo, and other items were identified as those De La Cruz purchased at Walmart using Gonzalez’s debit card. The missing woman’s 24-Hour Fitness membership card was also found at the home.

The state focused much of their attention on photos taken of the trench found in a backyard shed. Detective John Brooks testified Wednesday about finding the freshly dug trench during his first visit to the home two days after Gonzalez went missing. De La Cruz told Brooks the trench was dug for plumbing purposes, but the crime scene photographer testified there were no signs of plumbing work.

However, Victoria De La Cruz, George’s mother, would later testify she called police due to her surprise when she came across the trench. She said through an interpreter that trench had not been there previously and a neighbor told her it looked like a hiding place. When she asked George about the trench, he offered no explanation for why it would be there according to Victoria De La Cruz’s testimony. Part of her testimony included her telling jurors Julie Ann Gonzalez would give her credit card to George De La Cruz because she knew he was not working and wanted to make sure he had money to buy items for Layla. This testimony drew a sharp line of questioning from prosecutor Gary Cobb about why Victoria De La Cruz nor anyone else ever made such a statement to police previously. Victoria De La Cruz called the boyfriend of one of her daughters to take a look at the trench. That boyfriend testified the trench concerned Victoria about what George De La Cruz may be involved.

A baseball bat and bullet cartridges were also found inside De La Cruz’s home, but Sgt. Williams Summers testified there was no evidence of a crime scene and they were not looking for a murder weapon since at the time it was still considered a missing person case. When the defense asked him how many times in his 17 year career at APD a search warrant was executed for a missing person case, Summers said this case was the first.

Wednesday’s testimony

During their first search through George De La Cruz’s home in 2010, investigators said they found a freshly dug trench under a backyard shed. Detective John Brooks testified Wednesday the trench was approximately 4 feet wide and 2 feet deep and was covered by a plank of plywood which appeared to have freshly cut sawdust on it. Brooks said it looked out of place and that De La Cruz told him that someone else dug it for plumbing.

The jury on Wednesday saw surveillance video showing George De La Cruz inside a Walmart with Layla at the same time charges were made to Julie Ann Gonzalez’s debit card. Detective Tony Hogue said De La Cruz made purchases at the McDonald’s inside Walmart and also purchased baby shampoo, baby wipes and a video game using Gonzalez’s card on the same day she went missing.

After hearing Tuesday from several friends and family members who testified about Gonzalez’s unhappiness and arguments with her husband, her sister took the stand to tell the jury about their physical altercations. Samantha Petri, the younger sister of Gonzalez, told the jury that the last time she saw Gonzalez, she kept saying she “had a bad feeling” but that she couldn’t elaborate on what.

You can follow live tweets from the courtroom on Chris Sadeghi’s Twitter page.

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