Jury Convicts Driver of Second Degree Murder

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hit-and-run

A Yolo County jury on Friday returned with a verdict of guilty on the two main counts: Second Degree Murder and Gross Vehicular Manslaughter, as well as two counts of perjury.  They acquitted Mr. Gonzalez of hit and run in the 2014 collision in Davis that killed an 85-year-old woman.

The jury evidently agreed that Mr. Gonzales, who suffered from seizures including one prior to the crash, should have known the risk he posed but ignored that risk and drove regardless.  The decision to drive despite the risks, according to the jury finding, amounts to implied malice.

Due to the second degree murder conviction, Mr. Gonzalez faces 15 years to life in prison.

Previous article: Closing Arguments

By Jackie Snyder and Lauren King

The trial of Armando Gonzalez prepared to wrap up on the morning of April 9, 2015.  The majority of the morning session was dedicated to counsel, allowing them to make last minute changes on certain exhibits, in order for the exhibits to be  entered into evidence. Judge Richardson took issue with allowing certain medical records to be entered into evidence, due to the fact neither a medical professional nor the person who prepared the records were called to testify on behalf of the medical records.  Judge Richardson ultimately allowed the records to be entered into evidence after briefly researching case law Deputy District Attorney Amanda Zambor brought to his attention.

In addition, Judge Richardson had to make the decision whether certain job applications completed by the defendant would be allowed into evidence.  The job applications help provide proof the defendant was dishonest about his knowledge of the English language.  The defendant checked certain boxes (on the application), claiming to be fluent in both the English and Spanish language.  He also made the claim that his preferred spoken and written language was English.  Certain insurance policies were also called into question before deciding whether they could be submitted into evidence.

Judge Richardson then used the remaining morning court session to go over several jury instructions.  The purpose of the jury instructions is to help jurors understand the law that applies to the case.  Court was then dismissed for lunch.  Jurors were asked to return at 1:30 pm. for the conclusion of the trial.

Closing Arguments

The trial of Armando Gonzalez came to a close on the afternoon of April 9, 2015, at the Yolo County Superior Courthouse. Closing arguments were presented by Deputy District Attorney Amanda Zambor and Criminal Defense Attorney Clemente Jimenez.

Ms. Zambor argued that the jury must find Mr. Gonzalez guilty on all counts, including those of gross vehicular manslaughter and second degree murder. Mr. Gonzalez has suffered from epilepsy since childhood and she argued that it was common sense that it was both a risk and a danger to others to allow Mr. Gonzalez to get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. Not only is there already an elevated risk for an epileptic to drive, but Mr. Gonzalez has caused four separate collisions after losing consciousness behind the wheel. He had a history of seizing behind the wheel and was continually being warned about his seizure triggers by neurologists. Ms. Zambor argued that the defendant chose his own convenience over public safety.

On the morning of February 1, 2014, Mr. Gonzalez informed his boss that he was not feeling well after experiencing two absence seizures, brief and sudden lapses of consciousness. His boss excused him from work and he proceeded to get into his car and drive home, despite his condition at the time. Mr. Gonzalez was aware that his condition was affecting him on the day that he hit and fatally injured Ms. Ruth Morales.

In 2002, Mr. Gonzalez had a seizure behind the wheel and hit several parked cars. In 2004, Mr. Gonzalez lost consciousness and hit a cement wall, shattering both of his legs. In the latter accident, the defendant had to be life-flighted to a hospital where pins were inserted into his legs and surgery was required on his brain. In 2010, Mr. Gonzalez felt a seizure coming on while driving, and so he pulled over. Although the defendant believed he was pulling over to the side of the road, he actually pulled into a parked car. In 2011, the defendant ran a stop sign and T-boned a van. This collision sent the van into oncoming traffic. All of these incidents occurred before the fateful 2014 accident.

Mr. Gonzalez lied to the DMV and his doctors about the frequency of his seizures so that he would not lose his driver’s license. Ms. Zambor argued that this indicated that Mr. Gonzalez was fully aware that, if he told the truth, he would be considered too dangerous to drive. He also neglected to tell his neurologists about his prior collisions. Therefore, the neurologists and the DMV did not have full information and could not accurately determine whether Mr. Gonzalez was safe to operate a vehicle. His seizures were never completely controlled even while Mr. Gonzalez was faithfully taking his anti-epileptic medications. The defendant is also being charged with counts of perjury due to these unlawful and false statements made to the DMV and medical professionals.

The defense argued that the prosecution was throwing up a large number of charges just to see what would stick and that they were attempting to manipulate the jury by eliciting their sympathy for Ms. Morales. Mr. Jimenez accused the prosecution of misdirection and called the number of charges “laughable.” The true crime, he argued, was excusable homicide.

Mr. Jimenez further argued that Mr. Gonzalez had driven on many occasions where no accident occurred and that his client had stressors present on a regular basis. He also stated that people with epilepsy have a period of confusion, memory loss, and impaired judgment after a seizure. “If he had a seizure earlier that day, he may still have had impaired judgment an hour later. Was this a conscious decision to drive a car?” Mr. Jimenez argued that Mr. Gonzalez did not act willfully and that the hit and run didn’t make sense because the defendant was likely still in a state of confusion after his seizure. When Mr. Jimenez referred to the victim, he incorrectly called her Ms. Hernandez.

Ms. Zambor gave a few final notes to the jury. She informed them that her office was actually only charging the defendant with two main charges and that most of the others were parts of those larger charges. She also argued that discussing the prior collisions was not irrelevant because they demonstrate that Mr. Gonzalez knew the dangers that came with choosing to get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle.

Ms. Zambor also defended the hit and run charge. Mr. Gonzalez drove in a straight line when he hit Ms. Morales and left the scene. Had he been unconscious, it would be more likely that the vehicle would have veered off its initial path or woven in and out of its lane. Two witnesses testified that it appeared that Mr. Gonzalez was attempting to leave the scene after the second collision. Ms. Zambor compared Mr. Gonzalez’s condition to Russian roulette, with a motor vehicle rather than a gun, and with the triggers present on February 1, 2014, a gun that was nearly fully loaded.

The jury was given instruction by Judge Richardson and then released for deliberation. The Vanguard will report the verdict once the jury has come to a unanimous decision on the case.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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