SAGUACHE – A visiting judge ruled late Wednesday there is probable cause to try Charles Moises Gonzales, 46, on all four counts in the murder of Michael D. Rust – first-degree murder, first-degree burglary, tampering with evidence and possession of a weapon by a previous offender.
Crime of violence enhancers are attached to the murder and burglary charges.
Rust was a well-known crafter of “shorty” mountain bikes and a metal craftsman who was inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame in 1991. He moved to northern Saguache County in 1994 to build a sustainable solar home out of recycled materials.
Rust’s remains were discovered in January but were not confirmed by DNA analysis until late April. Rust disappeared from his Saguache County home March 31, 2009, after arriving home following a grocery-shopping trip to discover what he believed was a break-in. He called a friend and told her he was taking his gun and planned to follow tracks outside his home to see where they led.
Gonzales was serving time in a Colorado Department of Corrections facility in Cañon City on unrelated charges when the warrant was issued.
He has been convicted of numerous weapons offenses, assaults, sexual assault, burglaries, theft, criminal trespass, escape and aggravated motor vehicle thefts, according to the warrant.
Judge Adele Anderson delivered her decision in the preliminary hearing at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. She explained she could not dismiss the fact Rust was assaulted and shot from behind, contrary to Gonzales’ claims in his confession that the two struggled over the gun and Rust was accidentally shot.
She dismissed the defense’s claim there was no proof of a burglary at Rust’s home, asking, “Why would Rust leave in such a hurry and tell (his woman friend about the burglary); he didn’t just make this up.”
She called the evidence against Gonzales “authentic” and ordered his case be bound over to district court for adjudication.
“We’re very pleased – it’s been almost 8 years and we are finally starting to see justice for Mike, who isn’t here to explain his side of things,” Rust’s brother Carl commented following the hearing. Another brother, Marty, was also present for the hearing. “Now we can have a happy Christmas,” a third family member commented.
Gonzales’ son, Michael Gonzales, alerted the Saguache County Sheriff’s Office to the location of Rust’s body. Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent Pat Crouch, agent Kevin Koback and Saguache Deputy Wayne Clark were present for the interview conducted Oct. 23, 2015. Crouch testified at the hearing Wednesday.
Michael Gonzales told Crouch he wasn’t sure why his father’s name was linked to the Rust murder. The elder Gonzales was mentioned as a possible suspect in the case at the time of its occurrence because of his criminal background and the proximity of family property Gonzales frequented to Rust’s property.
The son said his father also had written a letter to his mother stating he knew where Rust’s body was and would claim the reward for locating it after being released from prison. That indicated to him, he said, his father knew something about the murder. He said his father had admitted to killing four people in New Mexico and belonging to a mafia-associated street gang.
He then told those present he believed Rust could be buried in a 4-by-4-foot hole dug by Charles Gonzales as a “club house” for his sons on land owned by Michael’s grandfather, Charles’ father, Guadalupe Gonzales. The clubhouse was dug out shortly before Rust’s murder.
Following the murder the hole was filled with trash and secured by tires stacked on top of the debris. Guadalupe Gonzales later said he believed his son Charles had buried a motorcycle there.
A search warrant was obtained for the property and the clubhouse site was excavated, revealing Rust’s remains. Some 73 items of evidence were retrieved from the gravesite, including a bike sprocket belt buckle Rust’s relatives insisted was his even before DNA confirmation was received.
Cause of death
Rust’s remains were then transferred to the El Paso County coroner’s office for autopsy. Coroner Dr. Robert C. Brux performed the autopsy on Rust’s remains. Two upper molar teeth were retrieved from the jaw and were sent for DNA analysis.
Detailed photos contained in the warrant show that Rust was “struck in the back of the skull by some type of object causing a semicircular pattern left in the skull.” Brux said the indentation was created by a flashlight retrieved from the burial site, but indicated this blow to the head was not the cause of death.
Rust died from a single gunshot wound that entered the back lower left quadrant of his head. Based on these findings, Brux ruled Rust’s death a homicide.
Agents Crouch and Joe Cahill, also Deputy Clark, interviewed Charles Gonzales’ common-law wife, Susan Lewis, at the Saguache Sheriff’s Office Jan. 26. Lewis told the agents Charles was a longtime drug user who did not work and who spent most of his time breaking into places and selling drugs, although she commented that she did not know this at the time.
Lewis said she remembered there had been rooms and perhaps a tunnel dug under some animal pens on the property when her children were younger. She admitted Charles carried a silver gun with brown grips she later identified as appearing to be a Ruger single-action revolver. She also recalled that Charles used to ride trail bikes and the kids had a four-wheeler in 2009.
Four-wheeler and motorbike tracks were discovered at Rust’s residence following his disappearance.
Lewis said Charles wrote her a letter saying he intended to claim the reward for finding Rust’s bones. He later admitted to her and his father during a prison visit in December 2015 that “he did it.” He then asked his relatives to remove the body from where it was buried so law enforcement officials would not find it.
Charles Gonzales interview
Charles Gonzales spoke to Crouch, Cahill, Clark and Department of Corrections investigator Larry Sabato on Feb. 17. He denied breaking into Rust’s home.
Gonzales maintains he acted in self-defense after Rust chased him onto his property on his motorbike, firing a gun at him and threatening him.
He told authorities he hit Rust with “a stick” in the back of the head. He said they then struggled for a gun Rust brought with him, it discharged, and Rust was hit. He claims he tried to revive Rust but was unsuccessful.
Gonzales is being held without bond pending further court proceedings.
Published by permission from the Alamosa Valley Courier.