A week ago, the family of Justin Gonzalez held a press conference to dispute the jury verdict from December which found him guilty of second degree murder with gang charges. He awaits sentencing on January 26, 2018.
But his family and attorney Keith Staten question the jury verdict. He argues that the DA failed to provide exculpatory evidence as required under Brady.
Mr. Staten writes in his motion: “Mr. Gonzalez should be granted a new trial because D.A. Vroman intentionally failed to timely disclose a statement of Ms. Aradoz given and recorded on or about December 4, 2017, which violated Mr. Gonzalez’s constitutional rights to due process, effective assistance of counsel, and a fair trial.”
Mr. Gonzalez, he continued, “was entitled to timely discovery of Ms. Aradoz’s statement to law enforcement in advance of trial under Brady and PC 1054 because (1) the statement was exculpatory due to its impeachable nature, (2) the statement was made by a codefendant, and (3) defense counsel was assured by D.A. Vroman that no such statement was made.”
When Mr. Vroman notified the defense that Ms. Aradoz was taking a plea deal in exchange for testimony, “Mr. Staten asked D.A. Vroman whether Ms. Aradoz had been interviewed by anyone, including law
enforcement, and was told she had not. D.A. Vroman went on to state that Ms. Aradoz’s testimony would align with her prior sworn grand jury testimony as well as previous statements given to law enforcement.”
However, “In her previous testimony and statements, Ms. Aradoz never implicated Mr. Gonzalez. She testified at the grand jury proceeding that she was cut by an unknown male before the victim was murdered.”
She also “testified that she did not remember seeing Justin Gonzalez ‘hit the guy or anything’ when describing Mr. Gonzalez in relation to the victim. She stated that she did not remember exactly where Mr. Gonzalez was in relation to what was going on when the victim was stabbed.”
Argues Mr. Staten: “With this assurance, Mr. Staten did not obtain a statement from Ms. Aradoz after she had accepted the plea deal.”
Nine days later, “Mr. Jeff Raven, counsel for Ruby Aradoz, informed Mr. Staten that Ms. Aradoz had been interviewed by law enforcement prior to testifying on December 4 and after accepting the plea deal on December 1, 2017.”
Mr. Staten argues: “The statement given to law enforcement could have been used for impeachment purposes when Ms. Aradoz took the stand. The People will argue that Mr. Staten had an opportunity to cross-examine Ms. Aradoz when she took the stand. However, Mr. Staten relied on the representation that her testimony would reflect prior given testimony and statements.
“This misrepresentation, whether negligent or intentional, materially, affected Mr. Gonzalez’s due process rights. This statement and information was clearly relevant for impeachment, and should have been disclosed before Ms. Aradoz took the stand on December 4, 2017.
“It is undisputed that Ms. Aradoz’s new statement to law enforcement was suppressed by the prosecution,” he writes. “The suppression of Ms. Aradoz’s statement to law enforcement, severely, prejudiced Mr. Gonzalez’s ability to adequately defend himself.”
Mr. Staten points out, “The prosecutorial duty to disclose material evidence that is favorable to the accused includes the duty to disclose evidence that would impeach the testimony of material witnesses.”
Mr. Staten charges that Mr. Vroman “committed prosecutorial misconduct by intentionally withholding relevant material from Defendant Gonzalez.” He notes, “The Prosecutor’s failure to disclose relevant statements material to the evidence at trial, may be reversible misconduct and should be reported to the state bar.”
When Keith Staten talked to the Vanguard back in December, he said 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.”
He said, “She had black outs.” Then, “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.”
Judge Maguire will take up this motion when the case goes to him for sentencing on January 26.
—David M. Greenwald reporting