Murder or Suicide? West Man Accused of Killing Girlfriend Stands Trial

A man is on trial for murder after his girlfriend was found dead in her West home more than two years ago.

WEST - A man is on trial for murder after his girlfriend was found dead in her West home more than two years ago.

Tuesday was the second day of trial for David Zahirniak of West, 45, whose girlfriend, Caitlyn Goates-Reed, 21, was found dead with a single gunshot wound to the chest in the hallway of her home on Tokio Loop in early April, 2014.

Zahirniak's defense attorneys claim Reed committed suicide, but prosecutors painted a different picture in the 54th District courtroom of the McLennan County Courthouse Tuesday, one of a murder motivated by revenge, saying the young mother of two had too much to live for to take her own life.

Following opening statements, Reed's family members, paramedics from the night of her death, and detectives with the McLennan County Sheriff's Office took the stand.

The first witness was a deputy who responded to a domestic violence call at Reed's home in March of 2014.  Reed was hesitant to file charges because she was on probation for endangering a child (for former marijuana-related charges against her and her husband), and Zahirniak was a convicted felon, which would violate her probation.  However, in the end, she moved forward and Zahirniak was arrested for the aggravated assault which left her with severe bruises all over her body and damage to her home.

Although he said she wasn't familiar with guns, Caitlyn's brother Keith Reid testified she took a gun from their father because she was worried about retaliation from Zahirniak.  Even though she'd overdosed in February, he did not believe his sister was suicidal because of her love for her two young sons, she had, and had always had a job, and she was making future plans before her death.

Caitlyn's Uncle, Mike Reed, a paramedic in West, responded to the assault when he was off-duty, and testified Zahirniak had blocked the ambulance carrying Caitlyn from leaving to the hospital.  One of his co-workers, who was taking care of her inside the ambulance, said she had to lock the ambulance from the inside because of the tire screeching and commotion happening outside.  The same paramedic said Reed had a "rainbow of bruising" on different parts of her body in different stages of healing.

Reed's ex-husband who she met in high school, Zack Goates, said they met Zahirniak through the Pizza House in West, and he came to live with them and their two children after his home was destroyed in the West Fertilizer Plant Explosion in April of 2013.  

"He was a good guy...at first," said Goates.  

He testified that by July, he knew something was going on romantically between his wife and his new house guest.  In August, the new couple had moved-in together, and the old couple was filing for divorce in the Fall. He said at first they agreed on joint custody, but he later asked to to be the primary parent because he was worried about who Reed was hanging out with, specifically Zahirniak. He also testified he felt Zahirniak was trying to keep him away from Reed, and she'd tried to get back together with him several days before her death, taking him to Longhorn Steakhouse to celebrate their missed anniversary.  However, Goates said he was not planning on getting back together with her.  

It came out in trial that after the rejection, Zahirniak moved back in with Reed.

According to a neighbor who lived behind Reed on the same property, she'd seen signs of abuse at the home, including bruises on Caitlyn's legs and cuts to her lip and eye on separate incidents.  She went to help Reed change the locks on her house after the assault in March.

 "The house was destroyed," said Laura Melinda Helton.

Reed's co-workers at Slovacek's, where Zahirniak also worked at the time of the death, said Reed told her she was scared for her life, and Zahirniak threatened to kill her because she put him in jail.  April Burns said she advised Reed to go stay with someone else, but Reed said she couldn't, and she had to go home

Detective Rose Peterson was shadowing the lead detective in the case the night of Reed's death.  She was called to the stand and went through photos of the crime scene, from bullet holes, to Reed's blood-stained body, and implied her body had been moved and tampered with. 

To reaffirm their claims of suicide, in cross-examination Zahirniak's attorneys had Peterson point-out beet cans and a pill bottle in one of the crime scene photos.

The state's final witness Tuesday was MCSO Detective Brad Bond, who interviewed Zahirniak after Reed's death.  Bond was also the detective when Reed was assaulted the month prior, and said she never wanted to drop the charges against even though Zahirniak told him she was going to and 'make it go away.'  During the interview, Zahirniak had a hand-written letter on him, allegedly written by Reed three days prior, touting it as proof the two were back together.  He told bond, after learning Reed didn't show-up for work, Zahirniak later found Reed at home sitting-up on the bed, snoring and gargling blood, and he moved her onto the floor in the hallway so he could give her mouth to mouth resuscitation.  Bond said he would have collected Zahirniak's shirt if there was a large amount of blood, and he didn't smell of blood either.  Zahirniak changed his story several times, and he exhibited behaviors consistent with stalking prior to Reed's death, Bond testified.  

Zahirniak's trial continues Wednesday and is expected to last the entire week.

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