Melinda Campos fought back her tears Tuesday as she told jurors about her devastation when her hopes of being reunited with her daughter, Zoe Campos who disappeared in 2013, were dashed five years later after her remains were found buried in the backyard of a home in South Lubbock.
Campos was the first witness prosecutors called on the second day of Carlos Rodriquez's murder trial.
Rodriquez, 29, faces between five years to life in prison after pleading guilty Monday to murder in Zoe Campos' Nov. 17, 2013 death. He entered his plea after a 12-member jury with two alternates were selected to hear his trial in the 140th District Court.
He admitted to strangling the 18-year-old woman to death and burying her in the backyard of his previous residence in the 1900 block of 70th Street.
On Tuesday, the punishment phase of the trial began and jurors will determine his prison sentence.
Melinda Campos reported her daughter missing on Nov. 19, 2013. She said her daughter failed to pick her up from work the day before and was not answering her phone, which was unusual for her.
Campos said she and her youngest daughter spent the day calling friends, family members, hospitals and jails trying to find Zoe.
But the days turned into weeks, which turned into months and then years.
Campos said as Lubbock police detectives investigated her daughter's disappearance, she put out flyers with her phone number hoping for any bit of information that would reunite her with her daughter.
She said she held on to the hope that her daughter was still alive and beat back the dark thoughts that she was never going to see her daughter alive again.
The longer her daughter was gone, the more she despaired, she said, and she avoided spending time with her family on holidays. She said she couldn't bear seeing her other family members with their children while one of her daughters was still missing
"It got harder, because as time went by, we didn't know where she was and I didn't I didn't know how to cope," she said fighting back tears. "I didn't know how to react. I didn't know what to do."
Her heart shattered in 2018 when Lubbock police detectives finally found her daughter's remains buried in a house in South Lubbock after her killer confessed.
"It was the hardest day of my life," she said.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Jeff Nicholson told jurors that his client understood that he was facing a hefty prison sentence.
However, he asked jurors for a sentence less than a life in prison. He told them to consider that his client not only accepted responsibility for his actions by pleading guilty on Monday, but played a critical part in bringing closure to Campos' family by confessing and leading detectives to her remains.
"Acceptance of responsibility is number one in these cases," he said.
He said Lubbock police detectives struggled for years to bring Campos' missing person case to a close. But it wasn't until Rodriquez summoned detectives on Nov. 16, 2018, to the Lubbock County Detention Center where he was being held on the stalking charge that the case was solved.
"They did not solve this case," he said. "My client did."
He emphasized to jurors that that his client did not have an attorney when he confessed to killing and burying Campos.
Nicholson said police detectives had spoken to Rodriquez about the case over the years but didn't confront him as a suspect in 2017. However, he argued that detectives ignored his request then for an attorney, which potentially delayed the confession by nearly a year.
Melinda Campos told jurors her daughter was a great daughter, sister and aunt.
"She was a beautiful girl with lots of soul and spirit," she said. "She loved life. She loved her family she was such a family person. If you all would have met her you all would have just fell in love with her."
She told jurors that Rodriquez's confession brought her no closure.
"Because she still hadn't got justice," she said. "He's still breathing, eating and sleeping and she's not. "
Prosecutor Jessica Gorman told jurors in her opening statement that Rodriquez had a history of abusing women including the mother of his children, who was the victim in the stalking charge.
Court records show he pleaded guilty in that case in exchange for a four-year prison sentence. Rodriquez admitted to sending her messages threatening to kill her and her family.
Court records show prosecutors intend to present jurors with evidence that showed Rodriquez's relationships with women often involved physical aggression, sexual violence and strangulation.
Gorman told jurors that the evidence will show that Rodriquez met Campos for the first time the night he killed her.
In a letter Rodriquez wrote to the media in 2019, he said he was under the influence of synthetic marijuana when he strangled Campos to death.
However, Gorman told jurors that Rodriquez didn't need an excuse to kill Campos - just the opportunity.
This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Melinda Campos shares heartbreak at Carlos Rodriquez murder trial