by Clara Zhao and Edward Garcia
Casa Del Sol murder trial resumes
By Clara Zhao
On Nov 29, the trial for the Casa Del Sol murder case resumed in Department 10 of the Yolo County Superior Court.
The three defendants, Ruby Aradoz, Alexis Velazquez, and Justin Gonzalez, all appeared in the courtroom, each represented by their own respective attorney.
The first witness to testify that day was Officer Darryl Moore of the Woodland Police Department. Moore had been a police officer for 17 years and was dispatched to the Casa Del Sol mobile homes on the night of August 30, 2016.
Moore arrived at Unit 77 and found a man with long hair lying face-down on the floor in the back bedroom. This man was identified as defendant Alexis Velazquez.
Moore then found one adult male, one adult female, and three children in the second bedroom. The adult male was identified as defendant Justin Gonzalez.
Moore admitted that Gonzales did not resist arrest, and Moore’s partner had detained Velazquez.
The second witness to take the stand was Dr. Jason Tovar, the chief forensic pathologist at the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office.
The district attorney asked Dr. Tovar to define pathology, to which he replied describing the mechanism of disease processes. Moore stated that his job as a forensic pathologist was to identify the cause of death in individuals.
Tovar had performed up to 1000 autopsies and performed the autopsy for the murder victim in this case, Ronald Antonio.
Tovar was then asked to go over the autopsy process. He explained that they start out by looking at the body from the outside, then move on to cleaning the body and examining the internal organs.
A People’s exhibit was then projected onto the big screen, showing a male anatomical sketch with Tovar’s notes on Mr. Antonio’s injuries.
Tovar first pointed out a contusion on Antonio’s right cheek, which he described as a blunt force injury. When asked if fists could have caused this injury, Tovar replied, “Yes.”
Tovar then pointed out cut wounds on the victim’s chest and right arm, a laceration to his scalp, and abrasions on his arms and shoulders. However, the cause of death was two deep stab wounds on his torso.
One of the stab wounds fractured Antonio’s eleventh rib, cut his left kidney, and punctured his large bowel, which caused hemorrhaging.
The second wound injured his kidney, cut his aorta, and injured his inferior vena cava – two of the most crucial blood vessels in the human body. Severe hemorrhage occurred in those regions and the victim died from the blood loss.
The shallower stab wound was about four inches deep and the deeper one was measured to six inches deep – even cutting near the victim’s spine.
Graphic autopsy photographs of the internal injuries were displayed on the projector as Tovar went over them.
The court then moved on to cross-examination, where defense counsel asked if Antonio had a measurable blood alcohol content. Tovar replied in the affirmative and stated that the victim had a 0.108 blood alcohol concentration, which is consistent with someone who has had two to three beers. However, due to differences in individual bodies Tovar could not say how much this impaired Antonio.
The third victim to testify was an inmate currently in custody for domestic violence. On the night of August 30, 2016, the witness lived in Casa Del Sol trailer park in Unit 77, right next door to Unit 79 where the defendants lived.
In his testimony, the witness stated that before moving to Woodland he was associated with the Norteño street gang in the Bay Area.
When asked if he knew the inhabitants of Unit 79, the witness said he did not know them “personally” but he had seen two males and two females with kids around, and that his own children would play with the defendants’ children.
According to the witness, on August 30, 2016, one of the males (Gonzales) had come up to him and introduced himself as “Bandit.” Bandit then asked the witness, “Do you bang” (a common phrase to determine if one was involved with a gang), to which the witness said he replied, “No.” The other male (Velazquez ) from Unit 79 introduced himself as “Oso.”
The witness said that he had been frightened when the defendants asked him if he “banged” because his children were nearby and he did not know what could happen.
The DA asked if the witness had seen the defendants wearing red and black – signature colors of the Norteño gang, to which the witness replied, “Yes.” The witness then stated that the confrontation that day did not end in a fight because the two females had come and taken the defendants away.
However, during cross-examination one of the defense counsel found many inconsistencies with what the witness stated in this testimony and what he had stated in his testimonies in hearings previous to the trial.
These inconsistencies included the identity of the person who had asked him, “Do you bang?” and what Oso had said to the witness on August 30, as well as whether females could be members of the Norteño gang.
The court adjourned for lunch at noon.
Afternoon Testimony in Casa Del Sol Murder Case
By Edward Garcia
After the lunch break, Attorney Keith Staten, representing defendant Justin Gonzalez, continued his cross-examination of the witness in custody.
The witness explained that the individual seated next to “Oso” was just standing there on August 30, 2016. This same individual had come up to him and asked if he “banged,” he stated.
Mr. Staten asked him to try and recall his statements to law enforcement—he couldn’t—so they were read from the police report. The statements said that the individual with Oso was called Justin and he was going out with Vanessa. The witness denied knowing the individual’s name. He explained that he knew him by his nickname, and the officer had it wrong.
Judge Daniel Maguire granted the People a redirect, which was used to give the witness an opportunity to identify Vanessa Ramos and Cynthia Tello, both originally named as co-defendants in this case.
After identifying these women, Ruby Aradoz’s attorney, Jeffrey Raven, quickly assured the court that his client was neither of the two, and the witness agreed.
The bailiff escorted the witness out of the courtroom, and Judge Maguire asked the People to call their next witness to the stand. Ms. Susan Stewart, an employee with the Woodland Police Department, specifically working with property and evidence, was up next.
She testified to sending a white t-shirt, shoes, a kitchen knife, and blue jean shorts to the Department of Justice for DNA testing.
Bringing Ms. Stewart’s short testimony to a close, Judge Maguire excused her and called for the next witness. Deputy DA Vroman brought to the stand Detective Richard Towle, who was the designated finder of evidence when Woodland Police Department searched Casa Del Sol’s Unit 77 on August 31, 2016.
Prior to entering the house, Detective Towle testified, there was a white van in front of the trailer home. A white t-shirt, size 2XL, was found inside the van. Indicia was found but “not inside the white van,” he stated.
Additionally, a white Honda CRV was parked directly in front of the home. Inside the vehicle there were several items with indicia, items with distinguishing marks. There was a pill bottle in the glove compartment which “had the name Justin Gonzalez,” stated Detective Towle. Mail was also found inside the vehicle.
Switching focus to the residence, Mr. Vroman asked the detective what was found inside. Detective Towle found the following items: seven cell phones, twenty-one knives, a white t-shirt, blue jean shorts, and a wallet with a driver’s license issued to the defendant, Mr. Gonzalez.
He also highlighted that the furniture in the living room was turned over.
Focusing on the knife found in the dishwasher, Detective Towle remembered finding it in the “top shelf of the dishwasher.” He described it as a large kitchen knife, approximately “eight to ten inches.”
The detective’s testimony went on to explain the items he found in the second bedroom. This is where the jean shorts were located. The shorts had a “darkish red stain,” he stated. Mr. Velazquez’s ID was found in the back pocket.
Mr. Gonzalez, the other defendant, had mail and a card written to him in this bedroom, stated Detective Towle.
Lastly, he noted a clock with red outlining and a Huelga bird (a stylized eagle symbol originally used to represent labor unions but since appropriated by street gangs) depicted in the middle. Due to his experience with gangs, this could be considered gang indicia.
During cross-examination, Detective Towle clarified to Mr. Staten that no check was done on the registration of the Honda CRV. He also agreed that the indicia tied to Mr. Gonzalez, namely the letter and mail, did not have the address of Casa Del Sol Unit 77.
Deputy DA Vroman, in his redirect, got Det. Towle to explain his exact role during the search. He was simply trying to collect evidence, he stated. He was trying to find the knife involved in the stabbing, but, with no blood, he decided to collect all the knives.
Emphasizing this search for blood, the defense wondered if the detective had searched for blood on other items. Of course, responded Detective Towle, but he didn’t find any.
Returning to the knife found in the dishwasher, Attorney Roberto Marquez, representing defendant Alexis Velazquez, asked if the dishwasher was running. Detective Towle could not remember.
Following up on the detective’s testimony, the jury asked if blood was found on any of the knives and whether any knife had a white handle. No blood was found, the witness stated. He could not recall seeing a white handle.
Detective Towle was replaced on the stand by Sergeant Ted Ruiz, who was dispatched to Casa Del Sol around 11 p.m. on August 30, 2016.
Upon arriving at Casa Del Sol, he went to Unit 79 but noticed the white van parked in front of Unit 77, he stated. Information from dispatch told him to be on the lookout for a potential female stabbing victim taken away in a white van.
Examining the white van, Sgt. Ruiz stated the “hood was warm to the touch.” He could see a white shirt inside, which also matched relayed information.
When they knocked on the door of Unit 77, Cynthia Tello answered and seemed “standoffish,” he stated. After being told about the stabbing, she “seemed indifferent to it,” recalled Mr. Ruiz.
Entering the residence, Sergeant Ruiz noted, “The furniture was a mess.”
Sgt. Ruiz also explained that he had zero knowledge of the adult males inside the residence, but did get to see them once they were found. Under the People’s demand, he identified the two defendants, Mr. Gonzalez and Mr. Velazquez, as the two males.
During the short cross-examination, Ruiz explained to the defense counsel that he was not the first to enter the residence.
Judge Maguire then read questions from the jury, asking Sergeant Ruiz if he noted whether the dishwasher was running.
“I can’t say that it was for sure,” he stated. The People, in response, asked Ruiz to try and recall, to the best of his ability, but he couldn’t.
To hammer down the point, Mr. Marquez asked Sgt. Ruiz if his reports reflected accurate depictions of that night with no key omissions, and Ruiz nodded yes.
The People followed Sergeant Ruiz’s testimony with one of his peers’—Woodland Police Officer John Riley. After asserting he was dispatched to Casa Del Sol, Officer Riley testified to entering the residence “a little after 11 o’clock.”
He ended up in the back bedroom where the “subject was lying prone.” Mr. Riley identified the subject to be Mr. Velazquez, whom he placed into custody that night.
He did get to see the other male, which he identified as defendant Justin Gonzalez.
Ending his testimony, Officer Riley explained to the defense that more than one officer entered the residence that night. He could not remember anything about a dishwasher running.
The last witness of the day was Lisa Langford, a criminologist with the California Department of Justice. Ms. Langford ran DNA testing for the case.
Under questioning from DA Jeff Reisig, she stated that the jean shorts did in fact have DNA on them. To identify this DNA, Ms. Langford swabbed the blood stains and the waistband on the shorts and compared them to the reference samples given to her.
Testing the waistband, Ms. Langford concluded, “Alexis Velazquez could not be excluded.” In other words, the probability that it’s not the defendant’s DNA is quite low.
The blood stains on the jean shorts “matched the profile for Ronald Antonio,” she stated.
Since she did not detect blood on the other items, she did not run further DNA testing on them.
In response to juror questions, Ms. Langford stated the knives she saw had black handles and were not serrated.
After this clarification, Judge Maguire excused Ms. Langford of her duty, and court was adjourned for the day.
The trial will reconvene on November 30, 2017, at 9 a.m. in Department 10.