Commentary: Another Wrongful Conviction in Yolo?

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We first covered Justin Gonzalez in 2013 when the then-19-year-old Woodland resident was accused in a gang robbery that from the start seemed way overcharged and, to compound matters, had identification issues.

https://www.davisvanguard.org/2013/07/judge-orders-alleged-gang-member-to-stand-trial-in-7-eleven-attack/

Two years later, after three trials, the case finally was put to rest, but not before Juan Fuentes received a 16-year prison sentence for what amounted to, at most, stealing a bike.  He was convicted on a robbery charge, having been found in possession of the victim’s bike.

Meanwhile, Justin Gonzalez was convicted of a gang crime, given four years and eight months.

https://www.davisvanguard.org/2015/02/multi-defendant-woodland-gang-case-finally-resolves-after-two-years-and-three-trials/

From Justin’s perspective and the perspective of his family, the true tragedy is that they were trying to get him out of Woodland and up to Portland, Oregon, when he was caught up in the Casa Del Sol
murder.

They couldn’t get him out in time, and now, unless something drastic happens, he will be sentenced to a life sentence in the coming months.

The Vanguard spoke briefly with his attorney Keith Staten on Thursday.  Mr. Staten has been his attorney since 2013, and he remains convinced that Mr. Gonzalez was not involved in this.

What we have is a classic recipe for wrongful convictions – there is at best inconclusive surveillance video with someone showing up on it who could resemble Justin Gonzalez, but was not definitively so.

Then you have questionable eyewitness testimony – where Ruby Aradoz is the classic prosecution turncoat, who is clearly trying to save her own skin and delivers what can best be described by all involved as unconvincing testimony.

The motivation, immediately, is in doubt, but her testimony was even less credible – here she conveniently recalled details helpful to the prosecution while saying she was drunk and blacked out for other details.

Talking with a defense attorney, representing one of the untried co-defendants in this round, there was a good deal of skepticism about the case against Justin Gonzalez and the belief that Ms. Aradoz, herself a key participant, was simply not credible.

Mr. Staten at the time of our conversation was baffled by the verdict, but had yet to speak with the jury to attempt to understand what it is that they saw.

The Vanguard plans to have a full interview with Mr. Staten on Monday and a detailed article next week.

In the meantime, here is the DA’s version of what happened:

Woodland Men Convicted in the Murder of Good Samaritan

December 14, 2017 – Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig announced that on December 13, 2017, a Yolo County jury found 19 year old Alexis Velazquez and 23 year old Justin Gonzalez guilty of the murder of Ronald Antonio, 41, all of Woodland.  Mr. Velazquez was convicted of first degree murder, along with enhancements for use of a deadly weapon, participation in a gang related crime, and special circumstances that the murder was carried out to advance the Varrio Bosque Norteño gang.  Mr. Gonzalez was convicted of second degree murder along with gang enhancements.  The court also found that Mr. Gonzalez had two prior strikes for gang related conduct.

On August 30, 2016, the defendants, both Woodland gang members, were patrolling the Casa Del Sol mobile home park located at 709 East Street in Woodland, looking for rival gang members.  Mr. Antonio had encountered a woman who had been cut in a previous altercation.  After giving her the shirt off his back, Mr. Antonio was going back to his residence to get a new shirt when Mr. Velazquez mistook him for a rival gang member.

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.

The two gang members then fled, leaving Mr. Antonio to crawl his neighbor’s residence in an attempt to get help.  Meanwhile, the defendants changed clothes and pretended to be asleep in their trailer when police arrived a short time later.  Inside the trailer, officers found gang paraphernalia along with the shorts Mr. Velazquez was wearing which had the victim’s blood on them.

The jury began its deliberation on the morning of December 8, 2017, and reached a verdict after about three and ½ days of deliberations.

Deputy District Attorney Michael Vroman, who prosecuted this case with District Attorney Jeff Reisig said, “This case is an absolute tragedy.  A good Samaritan, who went out of his way to help a complete stranger was murdered on his doorstep and left to die by two violent gang members who wrongly believed he was a rival gang member.”

The Honorable Daniel Maguire, who presided over the trial, will sentence the defendants on January 26, 2018.  Gonzalez is facing 55 years to life in prison, while Velazquez is facing life without the possibility of parole.

—David M. Greenwald reporting



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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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2 thoughts on “Commentary: Another Wrongful Conviction in Yolo?”

  1. Jeff M

    I am a close friend to someone that participated in the jury of this terrible murder trial.  It is likely to take several weeks or months for this person to feel normal again from the experience.

    Apparently the parents of the defendants came to the trial every day.

    How in the hell does a son with parents that care enough to come to his trial every day get involved with a gang that sanctions killing over slights, disrespect and turf trespassing?  I get where fatherless kids look for make role models in all the wrong places, but not when kids with caring parents do it.

    For me, this is an example for why gang enhancements are absolutely justified.  I think the penalties should be enhanced yet again for gang leaders.   They are a cancerous stain on humanity that destroys the lives of thousands of young people… primarily young men… either from premature violent death, or incarceration.

    I would vote for a special county tax to direct at this problem.  There are models out there for redirecting the aggression hormones of youth toward productive activities of competition.  When I was a young man growing up and living in another part of the country, we had these teen-age street-gang rivalries where we played football against each street-team in the local park.  One kid broke his arm.  I broke my collarbone.  There were lots of bruises, etc.  But nobody died and it actually caused the kids in that neighborhood to get along better because of the common interest.

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