Testifying Tuesday in 35th District Court, Michael Zarate’s ex-girlfriend glanced at the judge before answering District Attorney Micheal Murray’s question.
    The woman — Crystal McConnell, whose last name was Newingham when she lived with Zarate — was one of several state’s witnesses in the first day of testimony at Zarate’s murder trial.
    Judge Steve Ellis told McConnell she could tell jurors what Ernesto Gonzales Jr. had said to Zarate that Sunday afternoon — Nov. 2, 2014 — in the moments before gunfire ended Gonzales’ life.
    “He said ‘come on, Chester,’” McConnell quoted Gonzales as saying to Zarate. She said she understood the term “Chester” to be a reference to a child molester.
    Gonzales went on to taunt Zarate, who, the prosecution alleges, retrieved a handgun from the home he shared with McConnell in the 1300 block of Brady, came back outside and  killed the 34-year-old Gonzales, his next-door neighbor and a father of six.
    Zarate, 34, is also standing trial for evidence tampering.
    Gonzales’ body was found in an alley that intersects Brady Avenue a short distance from the two homes.
    Zarate and Gonzales had been involved in an ongoing feud, according to testimony. The two antagonized each other and once got in a fight that ended when Zarate bit off a piece of Gonzales' ear. In another incident, Zarate pulled a gun on Gonzales during an altercation between the two about a week before the murder.
    In hearings outside the jury’s presence, witnesses said Gonzales was upset that Zarate, who’d been arrested earlier on charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child and indecency with a child, had bonded out of jail and was living next door. The cases are pending, Murray told Ellis.
    The alleged victim in those cases was a 13-year-old girl, and Gonzales was concerned because he, too, had a 13-year-old daughter, witnesses said.
    Ellis would not allow those details to go before the jury. Ellis did, however, allow the jury to hear McConnell’s testimony about Gonzales referring to Zarate as “Chester.” Ellis also allowed McConnell to tell the jury she understood the term to be a reference to a “child molester.”
    Before McConnell testified, jurors heard from other witnesses who said they heard a woman screaming the name “Michael” and telling him to “stop.” Witnesses heard three gunshots and saw Gonzales lying on his back in the alley, according to testimony. He was able to call out for help before dying in the alley,
    McConnell told jurors she and Zarate began dating in 2011 and lived several places before moving into the Brady Avenue home. The day of the shooting, McConnell testified, she and Zarate came home from shopping and pulled into their yard about the same time Gonzales was arriving at his home and parking his Chevrolet Camaro.
    After Zarate and McConnell got out of their car, McConnell tried to get Zarate to go inside. Gonzales taunted Zarate, who answered back with threats of his own before going inside, McConnell testified.
    Zarate stared at Gonzales through a window, then went outside with a gun that he raised toward Gonzales, who was standing in the driveway that separated the two homes, McConnell said.
    She followed Zarate outside, pleading with him to stop. Zarate fired a shot, and Gonzales ran across the street and entered the alley, McConnell testified. She lost sight of Gonzales but saw Zarate “speed-walking” toward the alley with the gun raised.
    McConnell backed her car out of the driveway, and Zarate got in the passenger’s side and told her to “go,” McConnell testified.
    She drove to the parking lot of Depot Liquor on Vine Street, where Zarate got out with the handgun and walked away. He returned a few minutes later without the gun.