In early December, Alexis Velazquez was convicted of first degree murder along with special circumstances and enhancements in the stabbing death of Ronald Antonio of Woodland in 2016.
Family members gave tearful victim impact statements and Judge Dan Maguire noted that Mr. Antonio had literally given one of the women at the scene the shirt off his back before being brutally murdered by Mr. Velazquez. Mr. Velazquez was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, without much in the way of dispute from his attorney.
However, the matter of Justin Gonzalez remains unresolved. Mr. Gonzalez was convicted of second degree murder in December, but his attorney told the court that he believes the jury verdict to be in error.
The issue before the court during the sentencing hearing was whether or not the People committed a discovery violation.
Keith Staten, representing Mr. Gonzalez, told the court that Ruby Aradoz gave different testimony during the trial when she was a witness for the prosecution than she gave to the Grand Jury when she was a defendant.
Mr. Staten pointed out that, since she was a defendant at the time, he didn’t have access to her or her statements. He also pointed out that her Grand Jury testimony was the only other sworn statement that she gave, although she had given other statements to police on several occasions.
What they did not know at the time of the trial is that she spoke to Woodland Police Detective Pimentel and gave a statement at that time. He believed that it was the duty of the prosecution to turn that statement over to the defense and that the defendant had a right to that statement.
Judge Maguire asked Mr. Staten why this issue was not raised at trial and Mr. Staten responded, “I didn’t know she had spoken to Pimentel until I spoke to Jeff Raven (her attorney) on the 13th”
which was after the trial had ended.
The People were represented by District Attorney Jeff Reisig along with Deputy DA Michael Vroman.
Mr. Vroman told the court that, while he has not listened to the entirety of the recording, what he has heard is 100 percent consistent with what she said in court. He explained they have a system in place to go over testimony with the witnesses, and any material changes to previous testimony they would have disclosed to the defense.
He said that Detective Pimentel said that she would testify that Justin Gonzalez had a knife. He did acknowledge that Ms. Aradoz did not say that Justin Gonzalez had a knife during the Grand Jury testimony, but he said, not to be too cute, that she did not testify at that time that he did not have a knife.
Mr. Vroman was self-critical, however, that he did not ask her about differences between her testimony at trial versus that at the Grand Jury.
However, given that she had told investigators on September 21 that Gonzalez had a knife, Vroman claimed this was not new testimony inconsistent with prior statements, and therefore it was not a discovery violation even though the September 21 statement was attributed to a confidential informant. Mr. Vroman argued that it was easy for anyone with knowledge of the trial to figure out that it was Ms. Aradoz.
Mr. Staten responded that there was a conversation between Ms. Aradoz and the police investigator that the DA was unaware of. The DA made the decision on what to discover based on law enforcement’s representation to them.
He argued that he doesn’t know whether what was said was consistent or inconsistent, but he argued that should be the call of the defense, not the call of the prosecution.
Mr. Staten argued that this should have been given to the defense prior to her testimony.
In evaluating the state of the record, Judge Maguire reasoned that there are several accounts from Ruby Aradoz. First there was her initial statement, which was given around the time of the murder where she didn’t give much in the way of information.
Second was the statement on September 21. Third was the statement at the Grand Jury hearing. Fourth was the statement to Detective Pimentel. Finally there was the testimony she gave at trial.
What is missing in order to evaluate the state of the evidence was, first, the transcript from the trial, which would clarify what she actually testified to at trial and, second, the statement she gave to Officer Pimentel.
Judge Maguire wanted to get both of those so he could evaluate whether the prosecution had been required to turn over the statement to the defense.
Judge Maguire then set the matter over for a hearing on February 9 where he would consider the defense motion for a new trial or possibly sentence Mr. Gonzalez based on the previous conviction in this case.
Mr. Velazquez, as stated above, was however sentenced to life without the possibility of parole and his matter will not return in two weeks.
—David M. Greenwald reporting