by Danielle Eden C. Silva and Fabiha Zaman
Star Witness Claims Blackouts
By Danielle Eden C. Silva
On December 5, 2017, the Casa Del Sol murder case resumed in Department 10 with a defendant-turned-witness, a recalled investigator, and another investigator specializing in gangs. Defendants Justin Gonzalez and Alexis Velazquez were present.
The trial began with the cross-examination of Ruby Aradoz, who agreed to a plea bargain in exchange for providing testimony. The defense began with an examination of her current trial testimony in comparison to prior statements. Multiple times throughout the questioning, Ms. Aradoz claimed she blacked out or didn’t remember.
During the testimony, the defense concentrated specifically on Ms. Aradoz’s usage of the word “blackout.” A blackout is a period of drinking and losing memory. During a blackout, the defense stated, one does not remember what they had done. However, Ms. Aradoz constantly returned to that phrase during her testimony.
To clarify her inaccuracies, Ms. Aradoz stated that she couldn’t pinpoint specifics because she blacked out at that time. In addition, she stated that in some of her testimonies to the Grand Jury she withheld information. Unless specifically asked, she didn’t want to state something she was unsure of. One year after her last testimony, Aradoz shared that she felt more familiar with what had occurred.
Ms. Aradoz also mentioned her plea deal of accessory to murder. This deal specified that she testify truthfully, not in favor of one side or another.
One of the items she concentrated on was the events at the scene. Ms. Aradoz stated that she had seen Mr. Velazquez running and ran after him. She believed Mr. Gonzalez was running after her.
She noted Mr. Gonzalez being present, but her statements as to where he was, what he did, and how she knew he was there shifted. Ms. Aradoz noted at first that Mr. Gonzalez was there but she couldn’t see him. She then clarified she didn’t see his face. One of the later jury questions also brought Aradoz to note she didn’t remember if one of them was wearing a shirt. In her testimony, she also shared that Mr. Gonzalez had participated in a fist fight but then she stated he approached her and a witness before returning to Mr. Velazquez. Whether or not Mr. Gonzalez had possession of the knife also came into question. In some instances, there are claims he had the knife and others where he did not. She did note that she did not see the stabbing.
In specifics regarding what she claims, Ms. Aradoz noted that, while she and a witness ran after Mr. Velazquez, Mr. Gonzalez ran behind her. However, when the victim was being assaulted, she was standing nearby. Mr. Gonzalez moved toward her and another witness. The witness dismissed him and Mr. Gonzalez returned to the altercation.
The defense noted that Ms. Aradoz did not know Mr. Gonzalez prior to another witness identifying him to her. This did not occur until after the altercation. In addition to her statements, the defense referred to an earlier witness. Said witness claimed that Ms. Aradoz had a knife and had called him a “Scrap.” Ms. Aradoz argued she would have no reason to say that.
In bringing up whether Mr. Gonzalez ever held the knife, Aradoz was presented with a Grand Jury transcript on that day. She stated that she did not remember saying it, even if it was written down. In addition, she noted how the video supported her memory. At the time, she had been intoxicated and knew the general area she was in. The video pinpointed specific locations.
In her interviews with the police, Aradoz again stated she was withholding information or was mistaken. She noted she remembered some things inaccurately then, with her current testimony being more accurate. Ms. Aradoz, the prosecution shared, had been asked to testify a year ago.
The defense confronted Aradoz on the validity of her testimonies. They asked if she had provided false or incomplete information on the stand at previous times.
Ms. Aradoz was subject to recall December 6, 2017, at 9 a.m.
In addition to Ms. Aradoz’s testimony, two officers appeared on the stand.
Yolo County Probation Officer Sergio Pimentel, the lead investigator on the case, was recalled. Officer Sergio restated topics of the case, sharing a timeline of major events and the presence of several knives on the premises. Officer Pimentel had also been asked specifically about a witness whose U visa had been rejected. Said witness assisted in identifying people on the night of the murder and is currently in the witness protection program with her family.
The defense concentrated on that witness’ attempts to identify herself as a victim, stating it would allow her to get her U visa approved. The witness additionally changed her testimony to claim a knife was pointed at her, claiming she had always said that.
Officer Pimentel also mentioned that the witness had stated to him that a man had been seen lingering near her home and wearing a red shirt. The witness’ son took a picture. The stalking situation had only come up fairly recently. No one threatened her before her U visa.
The picture of the man was shown to the court, and the man was not wearing a solid red shirt but a striped shirt of red, white, and gray.
On this issue of the U visa, Officer Pimentel stated he was not even aware of the U visa process or the witness’ application for one. He did research it, after all his investigation work had occurred. Officer Pimentel did confirm, however, that the witness was inconsistent.
The last witness brought to the stand was a gang specialist, Investigator Aaron Moe of the Yolo County DA’s Office. He shared more information on the Norteños and Sureños, describing requirements, gang signs, symbols, hand signs, and numbers. In expanding on the Norteños and Sureños, he stated that they were enemies of each other – the Norteños wore red and were in higher concentration in this area. The Sureños wore blue and were lesser in number in northern California. In all his testimonies, 30-plus cases concerned Norteños.
In this case, Investigator Moe concentrated on the Vario Bosque Norteños. He noted this group had higher standards than usual Norteños and was specifically in the Woodland area.
Concerning expected duties of the Norteños, Investigator Moe noted that Norteños were expected to protect their turf from “scraps,” a derogatory term for the Sureños, and other unfamiliar people. They were also expected to show commitment to the group. This commitment could be shown through acts of violence, provoked or unprovoked.
Investigator Moe noted that confrontation was possible simply due to clothing worn.
The court broke for lunch and the trial would reconvene at 1:30 p.m.
Witness Testimony Continues in Casa Del Sol Murder Case
By Fabiha Zaman
On Tuesday afternoon, the jury trial for the 2016 stabbing of Ronald Antonio, 41, reconvened. Defendants Justin Matthew Gonzalez and Alexis Ivan Velazquez face a murder charge and numerous added gang enhancements.
District Attorney Jeff Reisig was questioning Investigator Aaron Moe of the Yolo County DA’s Office, specifically in his understanding of the gang involvement the defendants had. Investigator Moe was the one to examine Justin Gonzalez’s phone upon receiving it from another department. He conducted a logical data extraction and found multiple photos and videos about which DA Reisig asked the significance.
The packet of data that Mr. Moe downloaded off Gonzalez’s phone included photos with multiple references to the Norteño street gang. For instance, there were photos with the Boston Red Sox “B,” the number 14, the Huelga bird (a stylized eagle symbol used by the labor movement and appropriated by the Norteños), VBN (for Vario Bosque Norte), corresponding area codes, and demarcations of east and west sides. Mr. Moe confirmed that these were all symbols and signs that were characteristic of gang involvement, specifically the Norteño street gang.
The phone examination also revealed a Snapchat rap video featuring Gonzalez. DA Reisig projected a transcription of the lyrics and asked Mr. Moe to analyze the lyrics line by line to show Gonzalez’s gang involvement. Mr. Moe explained how the rap tells a story about someone in a gang working their way to gain higher status and more respect from other gang members.
After reviewing all the available evidence of Gonzalez’s possible gang involvement, DA Reisig asked Mr. Moe if, in his opinion, he thought that Justin Gonzalez was involved in gang activity with the Vario Bosque Norte gang on August 30, 2016. The witness confirmed that he did believe Gonzalez was involved in gang activity because of the items recovered during the investigation, various witness testimonies, and the rap outlining and recording Gonzalez’s timeline in the gang.
Investigator Moe talked about the criteria which suspects of gang activity need to fit in order to be admitted into databases in the police department that keep track of gang members. There are 11 points, and Yolo County requires that a suspect must fit at least three to be named a gang member. Moe found that Gonzalez had fit nine out of the 11 points. These included admitting to being a Norteño gang member, displaying gang signs, having tattoos representing the gang symbol, wearing clothing depicting gang signs or colors, being in contact with other active gang members, and being involved in gang crime, among other things.
DA Reisig moved on to Alexis Velazquez next. He had the witness identify him as the man sitting at the corner of the defense table with a blue button down shirt and a goatee and mustache. In preparation for his testimony on Velazquez, Mr. Moe reviewed the 13 points of contact Velazquez had with the Woodland Police Department starting in 2011. These were points of contact that were only significant in terms of Velazquez’s possible gang activity.
The investigator testified that during an incident on February 23, 2014, Velazquez apparently attacked someone with a glass bottle. Officer Nolan McManus arrived on the scene and asked Velazquez why he had attacked that person. Velazquez called the victim a “scrap,” a derogatory term used by gang members when referring to rivals or people that disrespected them. Velazquez also casually mentioned during the candid conversation with Officer McManus that he was a Norteño gang member. Mr. Moe had access to the report written by Officer McManus and thus marked it as an important piece of information relating to Velazquez’s gang involvement.
The prosecution then projected numerous photos of Velazquez for review. These photos were taken on the day of his arrest and included shots of his back, shoulders, chest, and face. Investigator Moe said there were two reasons for taking these photos: because the Police Department would be able to document any scarring or tattoos related to the gang and because these photos could show any altercations or injuries on the body that were consistent with the incident.
The witness also had access to photos found on Velazquez’s phone that depicted gang symbols like a capital N for Norteño; photos with two other people holding up XIV which represents the 14th letter in the alphabet, N; the Huelga bird; and a picture of a bulldog that seems to be beaten up. The bulldog is the symbol for the gang in Fresno, which are rivals of the VBN gang.
DA Reisig then projected the transcript of a phone call between Velazquez and another known gang member during which Velazquez reveals that he has “earned his B.” Moe said that “earning the B” means that a person has officially been taken into the gang and has gained status.
Investigator Moe had previously interviewed Velazquez when the investigation was ongoing, and in the interview Velazquez claimed that on the night of Aug. 30, 2016, he got off work around five or six p.m., went home to the Casa Del Sol apartments, had around one or two beers, watched TV and eventually fell asleep around 10 or 11 p.m. Despite this claim, Moe still believes that Velazquez is an active participant in VBN since he was validated by the police department on nine out of the eleven points suspects have to meet in order to be entered into databases that track gang members.
The People then presented the witness with a hypothetical very similar to what the defendants are being accused of, and asked if the witness thinks that the gang members in the hypothetical situation would benefit in any way from going after the person they attacked. Moe said that they would definitely benefit from carrying out a violent act like this since these incidents tend to help the perpetrators gain respect from other gang members and it is a way of “putting in work” into the gang. The status of those members would improve and so will the gang status, and the community will begin to fear the gang more, which is something the gang sees as respect.
Once DA Reisig was finished questioning the witness, Judge Daniel Maguire then directed defense counsel to begin their cross-examination of the witness.
First to question the witness was Defense Attorney Roberto Marquez who is representing Alexis Velazquez. Mr. Marquez asked the witness if he was ever required to take an official test that proved he could be accepted in court as an expert witness on gangs. Investigator Moe answered, “No,” but added that there were no actual tests offered that he knew of. Mr. Marquez then talked about gang members dropping out and the phrase “blood in blood out.” According to the witness, this phrase means that once you are admitted into a gang, you do not leave until you die. For the people who decide to drop out of gangs, they will always leave with a target on their back and they never drop out of the gang with good standing.
The investigator also mentioned crimes that are looked down upon and disapproved of by gang members such as rape, child molestation, and attacking the elderly. These types of crimes will generally not help those who are seeking to gain status in the gang. However, crimes in which there are confrontations with rival gangs and those who disrespected gang members help those gang members elevate their status within the gang.
Before Keith Staten, Gonzalez’s defense attorney, could question the witness, Judge Maguire adjourned court for the day and left the jury with instructions to report to Department 10 on Wednesday morning at 9 a.m.