LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - After almost a week of evidence from the State and testimony from witnesses, the jury has found that Juan Gallardo is guilty in the murder of Yvette Ellis. The punishment phase of the trial will begin Monday.
On the fourth day of the trial, the defense rested, calling no witnesses and offering no evidence.
The trial of 47-year-old Juan Carlos Gallardo, who is charged with the 2017 murder of his girlfriend, 28-year-old Yvette Ellis, began at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the 137th District Court.
Day One - Photos from the scene, Interviews with Gallardo
On Tuesday the jury was presented with photos from the scene and video of Gallardo describing the incident to Police, as well as describing his relationship with Ellis.
While three armed court officers watched the defendant, attorneys spent much of the morning debating outside the presence of the jury the admissibility of text messages between Juan Gallardo and the victim.
Testimony in the trial has been graphic. Friends and family of the victim can be seen wiping tears from their eyes even during the break.
Gallardo has been in jail since Jan. 6, 2017, when he was arrested for the death of Ellis, after police responded to a report of shots fired at a home in the 1600 block of 58th Street and found Ellis deceased.
The initial investigation by Police determined there was a verbal argument between Ellis and Gallardo. A firearm was brought out and the two struggled over the weapon; that’s when the firearm was discharged once and Ellis was shot and killed.
Gallardo called 911 to report the shooting. Gallardo, originally arrested on charges of manslaughter, was indicted by a grand jury and charged with murder. He has elected for the court to assess punishment in the event of a conviction.
On Tuesday morning in court, the prosecution played two videos of Gallardo repeatedly telling officers that he was trying to shoot himself in the head the night of Ellis’ death.
Gallardo told police Ellis intervened and they fought over the gun when it went off, shooting her in the back of the neck. In the video of Gallardo’s first interview with police after the incident, he told them he called his son immediately after the shooting before calling 911.
Day Two - The Medical Examiner’s findings
On Wednesday, the Deputy Medical Examiner for Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s office, Dr. Tasha Greenberg testified and showed the jury her findings after reviewing the autopsy and photos taken from the Lubbock County Medical Examiner’s office and other materials provided to her.
Graphic photos of the scene were provided by police investigators, and a former nurse for the Lubbock County Medical Examiner’s office testified she performed the autopsy and took pictures and gathered evidence in the case. Dr. Greenberg told the Jury she determined the manner of death was homicide and the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the back right side of the victim’s neck.
The State displayed a mannequin showing the trajectory of what they believe to be one bullet entering the back right side of the victim’s neck, out the side of her left cheek, down and through the front left thigh, out the back and stopped after hitting the left calf.
Gallardo sat with his head turned away while the photos were being shown to the jury.
“I told her I would kill myself because I love her that much,” Gallardo said in his second recorded interview with Lubbock Police. “She’s the only thing that keeps me right.”
Day Three - State Prosecutor’s Witness Testimony
On Thursday, a former co-worker took the stand. She said she would see Ellis with bruises on her neck and arm and would see Ellis crying a lot at work. Ellis was seen crying in the break room and always on her phone. The former co-worker was shown a photo of Ellis. She broke down and wept and said yes, that’s her. “That’s my Yvette,” she sobs.
“I asked her to go home with me. I was tired of seeing her cry and I’d seen the bruises but she said she wouldn’t, I mean she was worried about her kids.”
She said the only thing that would make Ellis smile was her children.
The witness said there was a time Ellis’ children showed up to her work unaccompanied by an adult. The children were not allowed there, but they had just been left in the lobby.
“Yvette was shaking uncontrollably, crying, shaking, and her phone was ringing over and over,” the witness stated.
The witness also testified the training class at their place of employment offered to all pitch in to get her somewhere safe.
On Thursday afternoon, witness testimony for the prosecution continued with a woman who described herself as Ellis’ best friend for the two years before she was killed. She told the Jury she knew Ellis’ four children and described her as “an amazing mom,” but said soon after Ellis met Gallardo online, things began to change.
The witness talked about how Ellis became distant and unresponsive after multiple attempts by friends to contact her.
Family of Ellis took the stand and talked about Ellis’ relationship with her children, saying “she was a wonderful mother. She always wanted her kids with her all of the time,” but after beginning her relationship with Gallardo, they say she began acting strangely.
Family testified that Ellis began acting distant at family gatherings, mentioning a family wedding where Ellis attended with Gallardo but stayed away from the family; saying she spent most of her time outside and did not sit with them, which they said was uncharacteristic of Ellis.
Another witness called to testify by the prosecution was domestic violence expert Dr. Margaret Bassett from the University of Texas in Austin at the Institute of Violence and Sexual Assault.
Dr. Bassett spoke about the tendency for abusive partners to target those they believe can be easily manipulated and controlled, such as those who have struggled with mental health or substance abuse, or single mothers or those with low self-esteem, anything that complicates decision-making.
Dr. Bassett explained to the Jury the difficulty with abuse victims and leaving their abuser once they enter the relationship. She spoke about tactics outside of violence and criminal behavior that abusers will use to control their partner and establish the fear that keeps them in the relationship, including isolation by moving to a town with no family or friends, or even as simple as not allowing the victim partner to drive the car.
Prosecution attempted to link the testimony of friends about Yvette’s behaviors as signals of the isolation and controlling behaviors in Yvette’s life.
Gallardo’s son testified to a phone call from his father, immediately following the incident. He had told prosecutors on a video from the night that his dad called him and said, “We were arguing. I didn’t mean to kill her but the trigger just pulled.”
His son added to his statements to the DA that Gallardo had told him he was struggling with the gun trying to hurt himself and it went off. Prosecutors emphasized that this was not said on the night of the incident.
When asked whether Ellis could’ve taken a weapon away from Gallardo if Gallardo didn’t want it to happen, his son struggled to answer. The state repeatedly asked the son about important facts he never mentioned to police or prosecutors until last week.
Prosecution wrapped up by introducing text messages between Ellis and Gallardo, showing her checking in with every event of the day telling him where she was and what she was doing, finding ways to warp her answers into evidence of infidelity.
Gallardo was sworn in for the purpose of ascertaining his understanding of his right to testify on his own behalf, but when asked if he wanted to testify, he refused.
The State rested after witness testimony. The defense had the opportunity to present their case when court resumed at 10 a.m. on Friday.
Day Four - Closing Arguments
In Texas, because the burden of proof is on the prosecution, it is allowed to go first and last, however both sides are given the same amount of time.
With the photo of Yvette in her UT pullover giving a hook 'em horns sign projected onto the screen that covers most of the wall above the jury and to their right, the prosecutor begins her arguments to the jury.
The prosecutor argued Gallardo acted deliberately. “He left and got a gun and came back,” she said.
She also talked about the weapon. The gun used had multiple safeties. Gallardo was a Marine and he knows firearms. She reminded them of the testimony by one of the children that Gallardo had put his finger on the trigger, and that’s when the child ran and hid.
The prosecutor denied that Gallardo did not intend to kill Yvette. It was not accidental, she said.
"This was an intentional and a knowing act."
Prosecutors talked about the isolation of Yvette. Staying away from family. Refusing phone numbers of friends. Having to check in regularly. "Almost complete and total isolation."
“You saw what a master manipulator he is, with the detectives, even his own son.” The last referring to efforts he made to get his son to change his statements to police.
She noted testimony that most strangulation does not leave marks. Yet Yvette's were obvious and particularly violent.
She referenced the black marks around the wound demonstrate the muzzle was in contact with her skin when the weapon was fired.
"The defendant had forced her to her knees and executed her."
“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a nightmare,” said the defense attorney to start his closing arguments.
"We don't know how this happened. Those answers don't always come to court. It was a tragic act, but it was not criminal."
She reminded the jury he is innocent until proven guilty. Reminded jurors of their responsibilities under the law and the courts charge.
Chief Prosecuting Attorney Barron Slack addresses the jury and says, “Anger does not suspend intent.”
“People do these things. I know you cannot identify with the act of choking and killing someone. But this happens. People do that. And they’ll never ever tell you the truth, ‘I liked it. I like putting my hands around her neck.’”
Slack played the 911 call for the jury. “I just ... the gun went off ...” said Gallardo on the recording.
Slack showed the photo of Yvette dead on the floor, her bloody and battered body crumpled into the corner of a room. You could hear gasps and then sobs in the audience as members of her family who are present react to the photo.
Chief Prosecuting Attorney Slack has the attention of every juror as he describes in detail the injuries to Yvette. The strangulation, the choking, the hitting then the gunshot wound. Jurors nod following Slacks argument. One juror rocks back and forth in agreement. He shows pictures of Yvette with multiple scratches and wounds on her face and neck from previous fights.
He shows the photo of the contact wound to the back of the head. Slack then positioned himself over the dummy used to represent a person and shows the gun in contact with her head. The scene is intense.
“It is not about assumption, prejudice or bias. It is about a gun that won’t go off accidentally in the hands of a trained man,” he said.
Slack holds the gun to the head of the dummy again. "It was not manslaughter. It is what it is and I ask you to say so with your verdict.”
After just an hour or so of deliberation, a verdict of guilty was read. The punishment phase of the trial will begin Monday.