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.
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.
Zuzu’s best friend, Andre’ana Doggett was the next to take the stand recalling her memories of 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.”
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.
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.
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.
The court has since dismissed for the day.
Missing in the Big Bend
Verk was a student at Sul Ross State University in Alpine. She was reported missing in 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 let 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.
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 honor of Zuzu.
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.
Stay with us as we update this story throughout the week.