Day 2: Fabian’s trial continues, defense to examine neighbor

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CALDWELL COUNTY, Texas (Big 2/Fox 24) – Our team is in Caldwell County again for the second day of Robert Fabian’s trial.

Fabian has been charged in the death of his then-girlfriend Zuzu Verk. He has pleaded not guilty. On Tuesday, the court heard from more than five witnesses, including Fabian’s neighbor, John Franco.

See a full recap from Tuesday below.

Be sure to check back for updates on the trial throughout the day. Catch Caleb Califano’s full report tonight on Fox 24 at 9 p.m. or on Big 2 News at 10 p.m.


Day 2

John Franco

The defense took the lead in day two of the trial questioning John Franco, a neighbor of Robert Fabian.

Defense attorneys began by pointing out discrepancies between Franco’s testimony Tuesday and his grand jury testimony.

Specifically, the defense pointed at what he actually heard and the specific times he claimed to have heard it.

Franco claimed to have heard loud and strange noises from Fabian’s apartment the night Zuzu was seen at Fabian’s apartment.

The prosecutors countered and reviewed Franco’s entire recollection of the evening.

Miles Verk

Zuzu’s Brother, Miles, was the next to testify.

Miles began by describing his relationship with his sister, his relationship with Fabian and his stint in Alpine.

He told the court Wednesday that he had moved to Alpine and attended Sul Ross with Zuzu for a brief time and even lived with his sister.

Her brother said he eventually decided to move back to the Dallas area and discussed it with Zuzu.

The day before Zuzu went missing, Miles told the court that he left for Keller and wrote Zuzu a note telling her he loved her and wished her well on mid-terms.

Miles then discussed living with Zuzu, saying they never had to lock the doors to their home and didn’t even know if Zuzu had a key. He even recalled Fabian would just walk into the house.

Then the conversation turned to Miles’ relationship with Fabian.

Miles said he and Fabian “got along,” in the beginning, but eventually he noticed some problems.

He told the court Zuzu would often come home crying about the relationship and said Fabian was “extremely jealous,” and possessive.

Miles said he believed Fabian liked Zuzu far more than she liked him.

The defense then questioned Miles.

The defense discussed a fight between Miles and a known acquaintance and noted Miles was hospitalized for nearly a week as a result.  

Josh Cobos

Josh Cobos, a friend of Fabian’s was next.

Cobos was close with Fabian after high school and said they would talk and see each other on a daily basis.

The friend spent most of his testimony discussing meeting Zuzu and their relationship, as well as the events that took place after she was reported missing.

Cobos said Fabian liked her but they frequently fought and he would often get jealous when she was speaking with other men, particularly the aquaintence Miles was accused of fighting with.

He also recalled Fabian telling him that he loved Zuzu and mentioned a promise ring he had purchased for her.

However, Cobos said Fabian was “consumed” with the idea of Zuzu leaving the area.

Then Cobos discussed his encounters with Fabian after Zuzu was reported missing.

He told the court that he and Fabian did not talk much the week she went missing and said he tried to talk with Fabian several times on Oct. 12, 2016. Fabian eventually responded to Cobos and said he was very busy, according to the testimony given on Wednesday.

Eventually, Cobos said he asked Fabian about Zuzu’s disappearance but did not receive a response from him.

Cobos told the court when he did hear from Fabian about her disappearance, Fabian told him she was missing and asked if he had seen her. The friend said the text was out of character for Fabian in comparison to their usual conversations.

Furthermore, Cobos recalled Fabian coming to his work shortly after receiving that message from Fabian. During the visit, Cobos said Fabian told him he had just been questioned by the police and noted that his friend looked “puzzled.”

Fabian then asked to use Cobos’ phone to call Chris Estrada, according to the testimony.

Cobos then recalled Fabian telling him, “I feel like I said too much,” in reference to his recent interview with investigators.

He than asked if he could stay at Cobos’ home.

Cobos continued to recount the strange behavior by Fabian and remembered an instance where he asked Cobos if he could take him to pick up his laptop and other items from his laundry room.

Back at Cobos’ apartment, the friend said Fabian mentioned deleting some Facebook posts as they may make him look bad.

Eventually, Cobos and Fabian discussed Zuzu’s disappearance again. Cobos told the court that Fabian had said “he felt like Zuzu had been taken.”

Furthermore, Cobos said he began to feel uneasy about the situation and spoke to a woman who said she believed Chris Estrada was caught up in something as well.

At that point, Cobos and the woman went to speak with police.

James Carillo 

James Carillo, Fabian’s brother in-law, was next to take the stand and discussed his enbcounter with Fabian and allowing him to borrow his vehicle.

Carillo told the court that on Oct. 12, 2016, Fabian asked to borrow his truck in the middle of the night. It was around the same time Zuzu and Fabian had a date at his apartment.

Carillo said he never asked where Fabian went or why he needed the truck. The brother in-law also stated, to this day, he still has not asked Fabian about why he needed the vehicle.

It was pointed out in court that Fabian had borrowed the vehicle in the past.

During the course of the investigation, officers spoke with Carillo about the vehicle and said he was initially evasive and did not report it the first time he spoke with police.

In a second interview, Carillo mentioned Fabian borrowed the vehicle and stated that he cleaned it afterwards.

Sheriff Ronny Dodson

Brewster County Sheriff was then called to the stand.

Sheriff Dodson recalled the investigation, when he became involved and his interviews with Carillo.

Dodson said he became involved in the case on Oct. 15, 2016 and eventually led the search for Zuzu.

The sheriff said they called in multiple law enforcement agencies and the community volunteered as they covered vast portions of the county.

Then, Dodson described his interview with Carillo.

The Sheriff described Carillo as evasive as he did not report the truck being borrowed in his initial interview.

Eventually, Dodson said, Carillo told police about Fabian borrowing the truck and told the court the vaccum used to clean it were taken as evidence in the case.

Dodson then turned to Zuzu’s discovery.

Her remains were located in a shallow grave in a remote area of Brewster County with painters plastic.

The Sheriff says a Border Patrol agent was out installing sensors in the county when he located the remains.

At the site, Dodson said investigators found a retainer, patches of blonde hair and noted that the skull had been separated from the jaw bone.

At that moment, Dodson said he knew the remains were that of Zuzu Verk.

  

 

Sgt. Kirk Hoffman

Next up was Sgt. Kirk Hoffman who went into detail on the evidence he collected during the investigation.

Hoffman maintains evidence at the Alpine Police Department.

The officer recalled collecting several pieces of evidence including:

  • A vacuum from Carillo that was used to clean his truck after Fabian borrowed it.
  • Hair samples that were found in Estrada’s vehicle
  • Blood stains from Zuzu’s home
  • Zuzu’s boots
  • Video of multiple hotels in the area
  • Video from the family Dollar where Fabian was seen buying painters cloths
  • Video of Texas disposal
  • Video from various businesses
  • A shovel
  • And several other items at the grave site where Zuzu’s remains were located.

In all, Hoffaman told the court he collected nearly 300 pieces of evidence.

 

 

Cpt. Darryl Losyoa

Next was Cpt. Darryl Losoya who interviewed Fabian when he spoke with authorities.

Losoya told the court that he knew Fabian and even spoke to him the day she went missing.

He later recalled Fabian voluntarily coming in to speak with investigators.

During the interview, Fabian told Losoya about the dinner date they had together and about the argument they had afterwards. Losoya said Fabian told him Zuzu had gotten angry about one of his ex-girlfriends and that she left around 2 or 3 a.m.

Fabian then spoke with Losoya about what happened after Zuzu went missing.

Fabian reported to the Captain that Zuzu stopped answering his text messages and he thought she needed space. Then he told the officer that he soon received a text from Zuzu’s mother that she had not heard from her either.

Fabian also dove deeper into recent troubles the couple had been having, saying Zuzu told him that she was “drifting away” but they agreed to keep their relationship more private.

Fabian said he went on to drive his mother to Presidio so she could travel to Ojinaga, Mexico.

Losoya says he then had Fabian give a written statement and noted that Fabian mentioned he was willing to help in any way he could.

An interview with Fabian

After Losoya took the stand, the court turned to a recorded interview with Fabian.

In the video, Fabian described Zuzu as independent and talked about her desire to go to Texas A&M and later to Japan.

Fabian also said that Zuzu did not want a serious relationship and characterized their relationship as a “rollercoaster” at times.

He then went on to describe the break up.

Fabian told investigators the last time he and Zuzu broke up, he blocked all of her family and their phone numbers but not Verk’s as she continued to message him.

He also mentioned that after the breakup Zuzu had blocked him from Instagram and said she wasn’t seeing anyone else but she had made some new friends.


He can also be heard in the interview saying, “I truly love this girl you know” and “I always treated her right.”

Trial

On those statements, prosecutors pointed out that Fabian had spoke in past tense, as if he had already known that Zuzu was dead and the investigator agreed with the assessment.

In the end of the recorded interview, Fabian gave consent to search his apartment.

Prosecutors then turned to photos taken of Fabian’s apartment where they discovered painters cloths.

As you may recall, a probable cause affidavit states Fabian was seen at a Dollar General buying three painters cloths. Zuzu’s remains were later found with painters cloth pieces around them.

Following the footage and photos of Fabian’s apartment, Losoya said Fabian was interviewed a second time, further describing his relationship with Zuzu and what occurred during their break ups.

Fabian said in the second interview that Zuzu wanted to keep a “friends with benefits” type relationship.

However, during one of the couples breakups, Fabian recalled becoming intimate with another woman and told police that it didn’t feel right and that Zuzu never knew about the encounter.

They would often breakup for about a week and then settle their differences, Fabian said. The last breakup happened about a month prior to Zuzu’s disappearance.

However, Fabian said the week before she went missing everything was fine between he and Zuzu.

The court has since dismissed and will resume Thursday morning


Day 1

Today, Robert Fabian’s trial officially began as prosecutors and the defense team gave opening statements and began examining witnesses.

Fabian has been charged in the death of his then-girlfriend Zuzu Verk. He has pleaded not guilty.

Geoff Barr, a prosecutor with the Texas Attorney General’s Office, led off the morning giving a timeline of Verk’s life, her relationship with Fabian and the puzzle pieces that will come together.

Barr claims Fabian was angry with Verk in their on-again-off-again relationship, which ultimately led to her death.

Prosecutors described Fabian as being “consumed” with thoughts of Verk and discussed the idea that Fabian staged her disappearance after her death.

Meanwhile, the defense hammered home that there is no evidence to support the claims or the charges against Fabian. Furthermore, the defense team also questioned the legitimacy of the witness that would be presented to the court, saying no one heard or witnessed the alleged murder.

The defense even stated in the first day that DNA had been tested but came back with nothing as no forensic evidence existed in the case against Fabian.

Opening statements concluded Tuesday morning.

Examining witnesses

Lori Verk

The first witness called was Zuzu’s mother, Lori Verk.

In an emotional testimony, Lori Verk described her daughter as a ‘big personality’ who was ambitious. Lori told the court her daughter was a student at Sul Ross State University, and she had fallen in love with the Big Bend area of Texas.

Lori stated that Zuzu was interested in transferring to Texas A&M to continue her studies. The same week she applied, Lori said her daughter disappeared. The conversation then turned toward Zuzu’s relationship with Fabian.

Zuzu’s mother described Fabian as tall dark and handsome but with an attitude. Lori went on to say that Fabian could be manipulative, arrogant and “was all about Robert.”

Next, the mother recalled the week Zuzu went missing.

She noted Zuzu was very busy and they stopped hearing from her and Lori began to panic texting her “tell us you are alive.”

Lori then recalled reaching out to Fabian who said he was giving Zuzu space. The family then traveled to Alpine.

While there, Lori claims the family reached out to Fabian several times. Finally, when speaking with Robert, the family urged him to contact police for a welfare check and let him know that Zuzu had been admitted to Texas A&M University.

In recalling the saga, Lori credited the Alpine community, as well as law enforcement, for their assistance in searching for Zuzu but recalled no help from Robert in the search.

Sgt. Aaron Villanueva

Sgt. Aaron Villanueva was next to take the stand. Villanueva was the officer who was called to investigate Zuzu’s disappearance.

Villanueva recalled knowing Fabian while growing up in the area saying, “Alpine is close knit.” The Sergeant recalled the phone call Fabian made to him on Oct. 14, 2016 to report Zuzu had been missing and his search of her home in Alpine, which ultimately yielded few leads.

The officer then went with Fabian to search for Zuzu. During their search, Fabian detailed the last time he had seen her and described a romantic dinner they had.

Andre’ana Doggett

Zuzu’s best friend, Andre’ana Doggett was the next to take the stand recalling her memories of her friend, as well as her encounters with Fabian.

Despite living in different cities, Doggett and Zuzu remained close friends and were constantly in communication, according to the testimony given on Tuesday afternoon.

Doggett says Zuzu helped fill the gap when her sister passed and described the Sul Ross student as very outgoing and independent.

The friend also had an encounter with Fabian while celebrating Zuzu’s 21st birthday.

Doggett told the court that Fabian was “not very inviting” he was “needy” and “annoying.”

However, the friend coupled that with the fact that Zuzu had no enemies, to her knowledge, and she never mentioned being afraid of Fabian.

Prior to her disappearance, Doggett recalls seeing a Snapchat of the “date” Fabian had with Zuzu a few nights before she was reported missing.

Doggett also recalled seeing that Snapchat disappear before 24 hours. Snapchat videos and photos, posted to a users story, will remain visible to friends for 24 hours before they delete.

She also recalls reaching out to Zuzu eight to 12 times and never receiving any sort of response from her friend, at which point Doggett said she became “frantic.”

Oumy Ndiaye

Despite not knowing Zuzu personally, Ndiaye, a former graduate assistant was next to the stand.

Ndiaye recalled seeing Verk’s car parked “recklessly,” one day while driving to work.

Meredith Schock 

Next, Meredith Schock was called to testify.

Schock was a neighbor of Zuzu and recalled seeing Fabian at her home about one or two weeks prior to her disappearance.

She also recalled speaking with Fabian about a breakup with Zuzu. Fabian had told her the break up was not by choice, Schock said of their discussion.

Around the time Zuzu was reported missing, Schock also remembered seeing Zuzu’s dog running loose. She told the court she messaged Fabian about the dog and didn’t get a response for about two weeks.

John Franco

Next to the stand was John Franco, who was the downstairs neighbor of Fabian. Franco testified that he could hear everything and recalled seeing Zuzu and Fabian together about three or four times per week.

Franco also recalled hearing Zuzu come to Fabian’s home the night she disappeared.

That night, Franco said he heard the couple arguing and later he put a movie on at a very high volume. Franco also told the court he could hear someone moving things around and heard the bed squeak.

Franco then went to bed but was woken up by his girlfriend who heard a loud noise from Fabian’s apartment.

Franco told the court that he went and searched outside and noticed Fabian driving away, while Zuzu’s car remained at the apartment.

The next day, Franco recalled seeing Fabian’s sheets in the washer and dryer and noted that it was odd he did not hear Fabian put them in to the wash. While walking to work that day, Franco said Zuzu’s car was still at the apartment and noted that was also unusual as she typically left very early in the morning.

Franco also told the court that over the course of the next few days, Fabian did not stay at his apartment and noticed Zuzu’s car was gone at some point during that time period.


Missing in the Big Bend

Verk was a student at Sul Ross State University in Alpine. She was reported missing on October 14, 2016. Her disappearance prompted a massive search by friends, family and multiple law enforcement agencies.

Rewards were offered in the thousands of dollars for information leading to the whereabouts of Zuzu. However, searches turned up empty each time.

Her then-boyfriend Robert Fabian was later named a person of interest in the case.

Verk’s family also make several public pleas with the community to continue the search for their daughter and for Fabian to cooperate with authorities.

“Robert, If you love Zuzu as much as you say you do, and have told me, over and over, you will come down here and you will help the police bring my sister home.” Zuzu’s brother, Miles Verk, said in a press conference in October of 2016.

The Investigation ramps up 

Investigators spoke to various friends, acquaintances, neighbors and family of the two men as the investigation went into full swing.

Affidavits show that Fabian interviewed with investigators back on October 14-15 to give his account of what took place.

Fabian claimed he invited Zuzu over to his home a few days prior for a dinner date but things turned into a heated argument, according to the affidavit.

Neighbors recall hearing the argument from Fabian’s apartment and noticed Zuzu’s car parked outside, long after the argument ended, records show.

Phone records later show that Fabian had been in contact with Christopher Estrada throughout the next day. Surveillance footage also shows Fabian entering a Dollar General purchasing what appeared to be painters drop cloths on Oct. 12, 2016.

Investigators also spoke to Estrada who said he had gone to Fabian’s apartment to paint a table, the affidavit states.

He also admitted to driving Fabian to the store and letting him use his credit card at the Dollar General, records show.

Investigators also spoke to those close to Fabian and Estrada.

One woman told investigators that Estrada urged her to avoid asking him about the situation.

“I don’t want to get you involved,” the woman recalled Estrada saying. “Don’t ask questions.”

A friend of Robert’s also recalled an odd statement made by the suspect.

A man told investigators that Robert discussed Zuzu’s disappearance saying, “If I know a really big secret and two people know it, then the other has to be dead.”

Fabian and Estrada would later become suspects in the case.

“In our hearts we all knew”

On Feb. 3, 2017, a Border Patrol agent was patrolling in a remote area of Brewster County and located a set of skeletal remains in a shallow grave.

“In our hearts, we all knew,” Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson said during a news conference shortly after the remains were found. “When I walked up there (to the scene where the remains were found) I just knew.”

While there was no measure of certainty at the scene, investigators noted the remains were consistent with Verk and said they were found with plastic painters drop cloths. 

The Verk family issued a statement following the discovery on Feb. 5, 2017:

“As our family awaits the likely news that our worst fears have been realized, our sorrow has grown alongside a sense of relief from the constant state of not knowing. Zuzu has been a bright light in our lives. It has been our greatest challenge to go forward these last months without her joyous laugh, fierce idealism and heart-melting smile, knowing we may all never have them again. We could not have maintained our strength without the comforting embrace of our family, friends and community. Lori, Miles and I are forever grateful for your calls, notes, hugs, homes and more. We will be forever changed, but not ruined. We appreciate your respect and time as we begin the healing process. As we carry on, we look forward to the day we witness justice delivered for Zuzu.”

Fabian was later charged with murder as well as tampering with or fabricating physical evidence. Estrada, was also charged in connection with the case.

(File footage)  

Meanwhile, students, staff and family mourned the loss.  A vigil was held in honor of Zuzu. An outdoor amphitheater at Sul Ross was later named in her memory.

Since the memorial, Fabian and Estrada have been held on those charges. Initially, Fabian was set to go to trial about a year ago. However, the trial was delayed.

Estrada was found guilty of tampering in April of 2018 and is expected to testify in the Caldwell County trial later this week.

Timeline

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Stay with us as we update this story throughout the week. 


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