Last week, a Yolo County jury convicted Alexis Velazquez of first degree murder, and Justin Gonzalez was found guilty of second degree murder in the stabbing of Ronald Antonio in Woodland last year.
The Vanguard spoke on Monday to Mr. Gonzalez’s attorney, Keith Staten, who believes that the jury erred in convicting his client.
“I’m very curious about what the jury saw as the reasoning behind finding a guilty verdict here,” he said. “Only because we feel the evidence would have allowed any reasonable person to conclude that he did (not) aid and abet – we know he didn’t kill the guy, but we believe the evidence shows that he did not aid and abet in this killing.
“In fact,” he went further, “he was trying to prevent the actions of his co-defendant. We thought that came out in the trial.”
He said that the most important thing, which was caught on video, is that Mr. Gonzalez “stops at that intersection and if he saw everybody running, where they ran, and it was 20 seconds behind, if he saw where they went, you don’t see him passing (Ruby) Aradoz at any point on the video and when he stops at that intersection, that’s the time when everyone is just half a block ahead, they’ve been there for 15 seconds – so whatever is going on, went on.”
He added, “Ponce Perez cannot identify my guy in a field show up, but she identifies Velazquez and the girls in the van. Can’t identify Justin.” He said, “Try a photo line up – hours later, can’t identify Justin as being present – which was consistent with Hernandez, which was consistent with Aradoz and her grand jury testimony.”
During the grand jury testimony, Mr. Staten said, Ms. Aradoz, who was originally a co-defendant but cut a deal with the prosecution to testify against Mr. Gonzalez, “says he must have been
behind her – she didn’t see him do anything.”
He said, “She had black outs.” “But now in trial, they offer her a very very very sweet deal, in the middle of trial, and now Justin has a knife, is threatening her, standing over the guy, punching the guy, beating him, holding him… From the woman who you see on the video who starts this all.
“But the pausing in the video shows you that Justin could never have even seen where they went, unless he would never have stopped,” he said. “I always looked at that and thought that that was the key evidence there, because if you want to say he was chasing and trying to be part of the group, why would he have stopped?”
He said, “I find it hard how a reasonable person could conclude that he aided and abetted.” He added, “In particular, when Aradoz went so sideways on her story.”
He added, “The DA never argued that Justin had a knife – never could say that, not until she got up and all of a sudden the striations on the body were caused by a knife.”
This issue, he said, never came up until Ms. Aradoz’s testimony and “we thought she was so incredible to believe, from everything that had happened to her, that I could not see how a reasonable person found him guilty.”
He said, “I’m extremely disappointed in the result.” He noted these are the same officers they dealt with three years ago on the predicate offense, where they went to trial three times on robbery and gang charges.
On the testimony of Ruby Aradoz
The bottom line for Keith Staten is that the testimony of Ruby Aradoz “is not truthful.” Basically she testified and her charges were dismissed, “so she suffers no criminal consequences whatsoever – from the individual who literally started this.
“She had the perfect opportunity to stop this, because she knew she was going after the wrong guy,” he said. “He literally gave her his shirt. That might have been her level of alcohol, she was so drunk, she didn’t know what she was doing.”
A big question is, why did the jury end up believing her?
“Why would you believe her under those circumstances?” he asked. “The lies before, the lies after. Grand jury testimony, she was supposedly sober and would have remembered things better then than now.”
But he said, “She sat through the trial, she saw what the DA needed, and took a deal that nobody could refuse.” He added, “The credibility of her is what I question. I don’t know why the jury would find her credible.”
On the testimony of Ponce Perez
He said that they used a field show up to see if the witnesses could identify the individuals involved. Here Ms. Perez “went to trailer 77 where she said she saw everybody run to. They brought out four people, she picked the first three as being at the scene. She picked the co-defendant as the guy who stabbed.”
But Justin Gonzalez came out “and she couldn’t pick him out. She couldn’t say he was there. She picked Yar Sanchez and said he was there, when the police didn’t believe he was there.
“With her it was an identification issue,” he said. “Hours later they used a photo line up and she still says the other guy is not here. It’s not until court where she stands up and wants to point him out.
“I think she was contradicted by Mr. Hernandez who says that two guys run into each, tackle, fall, one guy gets up and stabs the other.
“I don’t know if the jury thought that Aradoz corroborated (Perez),” he said. “But when two witnesses are not credible, they can’t corroborate each other. So that’s my problem with her.”
On What the Video Shows
The video, Keith Staten explains, “shows two and a half minutes prior to the video, Justin is literally physically stopping Velazquez from going after the guy with the dog, Mr. Aguinina. The police would say that Aguinina pulled a knife, that’s why.
“But I would say – it doesn’t matter because what you see on the video is Justin lingering behind Velazquez the whole time and once it starts escalating and Velazquez starts going towards the guy, Justin steps in, pushes him away and the amazing part is that, right after that, Justin turns him around, come on back, you see the bike guy go through the picture, you see Velazquez turn around in anger and run after the bike guy throwing his hands up as the DA explained.”
Then you see Mr. Aguinina and the bike guy continue going up the street and, for 30 to 40 seconds, no one ran after them.
Instead, the two ladies come around the corner and Justin Gonzalez, Mr. Velazquez, and ladies walk back to the trailer. “So they calmed him down,” Mr. Staten explained.
It wasn’t until two minutes later that Mr. Velazquez “is seen by himself, roaming in the street.” It was Ruby who beat him up, pulled a knife on the guy and chased him up the street. “That’s when Velazquez sees that, hits the corner, runs up the street.
“Seconds later, Justin then comes around corner and sees that people have already run up the street, they’re already at the second view of the camera, which is clearly a block ahead and that’s when Justin comes up – he’s jogging, he stops and you can see him in the video.”
He stops at a point where everyone else had run through twenty seconds before. “So my view is that he couldn’t have been doing all of the stuff at the scene for the time that people say,” Keith Staten said.
A key question is whether he ever got to the scene of the crime. Some close to Mr. Gonzalez don’t believe he did and that he left the scene before the murder occurred.
“That’s where it’s a mystery to me,” Mr. Staten acknowledged. “The video doesn’t answer it, but the police even said, you see shadowy figures right at that intersection when the van comes through – and the only people it could be are Amanda, Aradoz, or Justin.”
Mr. Staten believes that it was closer to what Ms. Aradoz said at the grand jury (as opposed to the trial) – “that he may have standing around her, by her, but he never hurt the man, he never did anything to him.
“What happens (in the twenty seconds) unfortunately we don’t have a camera,” he said. “But what we do have is enough circumstantial evidence that goes both ways at least – that should lead the jury towards innocence.”
He pointed out there was a complete lack of physical evidence – “no blood, no sweat, no gravel” and he said, “nothing in his clothing.”
Which is interesting because, according to the DA, “According to surveillance video and witnesses, Mr. Velazquez began chasing Mr. Antonio while carrying a large knife. Mr. Velazquez was closely followed by his fellow gang member, Mr. Gonzalez. After cornering Mr. Antonio less than 20 feet from his front door, Mr. Velazquez waited until Mr. Gonzalez restrained Mr. Antonio before delivering two fatal stab wounds to the left side of Mr. Antonio’s torso.”
So how was Mr. Gonzalez, as the DA claims, restraining Mr. Antonio when he was stabbed – and not end up with blood on him or his clothing?
The Next Steps
Justin Gonzalez is set to be sentenced on January 26. At this point, Keith Staten said he is weighing his options. “One problem, with a motion for a new trial, is it is before the same judge who heard the trial. Therefore you’re probably not going to get an overturn of that decision because the judge probably feels that he made the right decision at the time. That’s why appellate courts come in and oversee what the judge does.”
So he has to weigh his options and a main question is “knowing what the jury may have done since none of them actually discussed the case with any lawyers after the trial.”
Overall, he said, “we felt that the video, the lack of credibility with Ponce Perez, Aradoz, and other witnesses showed that he did not have any kind of participation in terms of aiding and abetting the crime.
“The way the facts all line up in this case, and the way the evidence was presented to the jury, I have to say, a reasonable person should not have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said. “That’s the disappointment part, the evidence didn’t reflect guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in this particular case, when you look at the big picture.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting