The jury returned on Wednesday after more than three days of deliberation and returned a verdict of first degree murder for Alexis Velazquez, and then found Justin Gonzalez guilty of the lesser offense of second degree murder.
The jury also found that the two men carried out this crime for the benefit of a criminal street gang, and that Mr. Velazquez had used a deadly weapon in carrying out the stabbing.
The two men will be sentenced on January 26 and face life in prison.
Previous: Casa Del Sol Jury Trial Ends with Closing Arguments
by Kelsey Landon, Fabiha Zaman and Mary Nguyen
Casa Del Sol Jury Trial Comes to a Close
By Kelsey Landon
The jury trial for Alexis Velazquez and Justin Gonzalez, who are being charged with murder and numerous gang enhancements, reconvened Thursday morning. They are on trial for the 2016 stabbing death of Ronald Antonio in Woodland.
Despite having rested their case the day before, the defense called one last witness to the stand: Officer Rodolfo Godinez, of the Woodland Police Department.
The defense attorney representing Justin Gonzalez, Keith Staten, took to questioning Godinez first.
In reply to Staten’s question, Godinez confirmed that his role in the incident was that he was dispatched after a report that there had been an assault with a deadly weapon.
In describing his role that night, Godinez claimed that he had taken a witness to several locations, and at several points had her identify suspects in the crime.
After the witness’ statements, law enforcement detained everyone at a residence of a mobile home park.
Godinez was then asked by Staten to identify the defendants.
It was then Deputy District Attorney Michael Vroman’s turn to ask questions of the witness, but instead he chose to call upon the witness in a direct examination.
In this direct examination by the People, Godinez went on to claim that the witness he had taken statements from on the night of the stabbing mentioned seeing a woman in a white t-shirt that same
night. The witness claimed that the woman referred to the person who committed the stabbing as “Oso.”
Officer Godinez was then dismissed.
The district attorney’s office then presented a piece of evidence to the jury that had only just been recovered—a recording of an additional 911 call from a key witness on the night of the incident.
In this 911 call, the witness describes what is going on outside her door, and went on to claim she saw a white van but did not know where it went.
The evidence was noted, and Judge Daniel P. Maguire went on to read the instructions to the jury.
After the jury instructions were delivered, the People delivered their closing statement.
District Attorney Jeff Reisig began his argument by describing the incident of the murder and how it embodies our worst nightmares of gang violence.
The victim, Ronald Antonio, was a family man who was described as a people person. Reisig described his murder as horrific and ironic, in that the victim had literally taken the shirt off his back to help a person, but happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Reisig argued that, ultimately, the defendants’ reasons for murdering Antonio did not matter because, in the end, Antonio ultimately lost.
The defendants are facing charges on two counts—murder and criminal street gang activity. The murder charge includes use of a deadly weapon, a gang enhancement, and the special circumstance of killing by an active gang participant.
Reisig argued that this was a murder in the first degree and that the test of this was the extent of the reflection on killing their victim, not the length of time they had to do so.
The People argued that had there not been gang involvement in this murder, the murder would not have occurred in the first place. Reisig defined what a gang is and that one of their primary activities is the assault with weapons.
Reisig claimed that between the eye witnesses, DNA evidence, admissions, and surveillance, the jury would have all the proof they needed to convict the defendants of being guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The district attorney referenced eyewitness testimony, claiming that the defendants had “hood checked” that witness as well as another witness. In doing so, a witness responded to Gonzalez and Velazquez’s interrogation with aggression, which the two men took to be disrespectful.
This interaction would spur the chain of events, Reisig argued, that led to Antonio’s nonsensical and violent death.
Reisig claimed that because of this interaction with the witness who fought back, both Gonzalez and Velazquez ran back to grab kitchen knives to use to attack the victim. The district attorney argued that, at this point, the two men were on the hunt to kill.
At the same time, Ronald Antonio was helping Ruby Aradoz after someone had slashed her with a knife. It was when the two men saw Antonio helping Aradoz that they decided to attack him, argued Reisig.
As far as the defense making the main eyewitness to the scene appear unreliable to the jury, Reisig argued that the woman who provided the main testimony nearly risked her life to watch the scene and testify to what she saw.
The district attorney claimed that the eyewitness testimonies corroborated each other, especially with the 911 transcripts that were entered into evidence earlier that day.
Reisig concluded his argument by stating the fact that Gonzalez and Velazquez were found in a trailer near the scene of the crime, along with jeans in the closet with the victim’s blood on it. In those jeans law enforcement found Velazquez’s DNA, phone, and credit card.
The People closed by stating that the defendants celebrated this murder, and that it had been a cold-blooded execution.
Closing Statements for the Casa Del Sol Murder Continue
By Fabiha Zaman
On Thursday, the closing statements for the murder at Casa Del Sol mobile home park began. Defendants Justin Gonzalez and Alexis Velazquez are accused of killing Ronald Antonio. They have been charged with murder and numerous gang enhancements. Codefendant Ruby Aradoz took a plea deal and testified for the prosecution.
After District Attorney Jeff Reisig gave his closing statement, Justin Gonzalez’s attorney Keith Staten was next to present his final words. He opened with the argument that Gonzalez did not kill or aid in the killing of Ronald Antonio.
Staten reminded the jury that any arguments they heard or will hear from the attorneys are not law, and they have to remember to follow what Judge Daniel Maguire had instructed them to do. Staten also went over myths of the criminal justice system, including the myths that all eyewitnesses or human memories are highly reliable, and that the truth is always found. Staten said these things should not be assumed by the jury.
Staten added that the DA had to meet an extremely high burden of proof. DA Reisig had to prove that Gonzalez was the man who held Antonio before he was stabbed, prove that a witness was not lying, and prove that it was not Gonzalez who tried to stop Velazquez in the Casa Del Sol security footage.
Next, Staten talked about what it meant to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt. The jury was told that it meant a strong and certain decision that would not include the phrases “I think,” “I believe,” or it might be in the thought process. The jury also received a review of key jury instructions.
Once Staten had finished the overview, he moved on to key details. He asserted that there was no physical or scientific evidence to prove that Gonzalez killed or helped kill Antonio. He was not an angry gang member “hood checking,” and there is actually evidence that allows the jury to believe he was not at the crime scene.
Furthermore, Staten claimed that all the photos and videos that the People presented to the jury do not illustrate any of Gonzalez’s actions. The rap video was taken much earlier than the night of August 30, 2016, so it does not have anything to do with his actions. None of those photos or videos prove he committed the crime, and they are presented just to smear his reputation. Staten continued that the photos just distract the jury from the truth. Being a gang member is not against any law, and any prior convictions are presented just to create prejudice against Gonzalez.
Next, there was a review of all the key witnesses, their testimonies, and their credibility. Staten first went over the testimony of “CH.” Staten confirmed that CH was a credible source and he had no bias. CH was able to recognize Antonio in the security footage and, on the night of the murder, he only saw two men run into each other, fall and then attack each other. That was when the stabbing occurred. The defense said that the district attorney wanted to discredit CH’s testimony and that is why they also had “V” testify. Additionally, CH was not drunk and he still lives in the same Casa Del Sol apartment a year after the event.
PP’s testimony was reviewed next. Staten pointed out that she identified “S” as the man without a knife, but if it had been Gonzalez she would have said that he had a knife. She also never identified anyone to the grand jury, since she was never asked to do it, yet she was suddenly able to identify Gonzalez during testimony for this case when she had never identified him before. Staten urged the jury not to believe her because she was desperate to get a U visa and she was motivated by her need to relocate. Her testimony also contradicts what was given by Hernandez and Aradoz, and it is obvious she got things wrong in her testimony in court.
After PP, Staten went over defendant-turned-witness Ruby Aradoz’s testimony. He emphasized the fact that she had multiple “blackouts” on the night of August 30, 2016, but that it was obvious she lived the gang life with her husband. She caused this episode with “Oso,” a supposed nickname for Velazquez, she accused a witness’ brother and chased them like the jury saw in the video. He continued saying that Aradoz had the ability to stop this but she did not do so. Staten said Aradoz’s grand jury testimony was true, despite all the excuses. That was when she testified that Gonzalez never had a knife. But, during this case, it was clear she made a sweet deal just to save herself. She is a liar and will lie when it benefits her. Staten stated that it was all her fault and she never helped, she actually made things worse.
The testimony of “IM” was also reviewed. IM is a long-time resident at Casa Del Sol and has a twin brother who was out that night, August 30, 2016. Staten said that IM’s brother was the one who stabbed Aradoz and that’s why she attacked him, kicking him and pulling a knife on him. Security footage also proved that she chased him, along with Oso. Staten again argued that Gonzalez was not present in any of the security footage and thus was not hood checking or chasing IM.
The last witness testimony that Staten went over was that of “MA.” MA was a long-time felon who committed crimes that the gang did not approve of, but he was aware of the gang lifestyle and had even lived it. He lived at Casa Del Sol and added that he was not threatened by Justin Gonzalez at all. Staten confirmed that MA was a credible source and that he could not establish that Gonzalez was hunting anyone that night, that only Oso was.
After Staten had reviewed all the key witness testimonies, he played the security footage taken from the cameras at Casa Del Sol. These videotapes showed Oso and Aradoz chasing IM’s twin brother, and showed Gonzalez trailing behind in every scene and even attempting multiple times to stop Oso and calm him down.
Staten said in conclusion that there was no physical evidence or scientific evidence like DNA prints, knives, or dirt that tied his client to the murder of Antonio. Additionally, there was no evidence Gonzalez tried to hide or leave the complex; he also never lied to the police or made up any stories. There was also no evidence consistent with Gonzalez falling on the ground, rolling around, grabbing anyone, or bleeding. He was not hood checking that night, and he was always too far behind to catch up with the rest of the people before anything went down. Gonzalez was the one to stop at the intersection as well, putting him well behind the rest of the group.
The defense reviewed what the DA would try to argue. Staten said that DA Reisig will try to convince the jury that there are many theories available to help prove Gonzalez is guilty, and the jury only had to choose one. Staten also said the DA would try to show that Gonzalez was a gang member in hunting mode who would not stop until someone was killed and that he was there to ensure that Oso got his “B,” since he was a high-ranking gang member. Despite all these things Staten said the DA would argue, he reminded the jury about the high burden of proof. Staten ended with saying that a picture is worth 1,000 words, and that actions speak louder than words.
Conclusion of the Closing Arguments
By Mary Nguyen
On Thursday afternoon in Department 10, closing arguments were given by both defense attorneys, Keith Staten and Roberto Marquez. The defendants are charged with first degree murder.
Marquez, representing Alexis Velazquez, began his closing argument with reminding the jury that they could disregard statements of witnesses if they did not deem them reliable or honest. He elaborated further by explaining that Ruby Aradoz was given a plea deal that would dismiss her case of welfare fraud. He stated that she did not identify Gonzalez in court and pointed out further flaws in her testimony. For example, she lied about calling 911 and that she was on Fiesta, as none of the cameras on the street had captured her in any footage. He also discredited her by reminding the jury that she was consistently blacking out that day, due to excessive drinking.
He also questioned the expertise of Investigator Aaron Moe. Moe stated that he was self-taught and learned through interactions with gang members. Marquez argued that there was no testing done to prove Moe was an expert and that the jury should understand that observations don’t always mean expertise.
Marquez ended his argument by reminding the jurors that the prosecution needs to persuade them beyond any reasonable doubt that his client, Alexis Velasquez, is guilty of first degree murder. He explained that first degree murder is a premeditative or deliberate motive to murder an individual. He insisted to the jury that a charge for involuntary manslaughter or acquittal due to innocence of murder is a proper conclusion for the case.
Deputy District Attorney Michael Vroman in his rebuttal told the jury not to consider the penalty, and that a guilty conviction would not result in the death penalty. The judge, the Honorable Daniel Maguire, would solely administer the punishment.
He reminded the jury that Justin Gonzalez is accused of first degree murder and they have an option to convict him of second degree murder.
He also reminded them that Investigator Moe stated there was gang evidence, and that would have been likely to result in gang violence.
He replayed the video of when Ruby Aradoz was given a shirt by the victim, Ronald Antonio, and the two defendants turn around the corner.
He finished that it is probable that Gonzalez wrapped Ronald in a bear hug, trapping him with a knife, while Oso (Velazquez) stabbed him in the side.
The jury is to return on Friday at 9am to begin their deliberation.