In early December, a Yolo County jury convicted Alexis Velazquez of first degree murder and Justin Gonzalez of second degree murder in the stabbing death of Ronald Antonio in Woodland last year.
However, the Vanguard believes that Mr. Gonzalez was not a participant in the murder. His attorney Keith Staten told the Vanguard, “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.”
Nevertheless, despite evidence of potential withholding of discoverable evidence, Judge Dan Maguire allowed the verdict to stand in early February and sentenced Justin Gonzalez to 90 years to life in prison.
In February, Justin Gonzalez in addressing the court offered his “deepest condolences” to the family of the victim Ronald Antonio, whom he called an innocent victim. But he said, “I had no part in it.”
He told the family, “I know that Ronald losing his innocent life was unjust, but my wrongful conviction is also unjust.”
He blamed his circumstances on his co-defendant Alexis Velazquez, who two weeks ago received life without parole for his part in the murder. He said that Mr. Velazquez could have cleared his name
but failed to do so out of arrogance that he himself could walk away from the crime.
Now the task of attempting to free him falls to his family.
His father, Charles Gonzalez, explained, “The fundraiser is about Justice for Justin.” He explained that the family is attempting to hire Todd Melnik to handle the appellate case. He will be there and will speak at the event. “It’s about trying to raise money for Justin.”
He said, while he doesn’t believe this event will raise a ton of money, “we’re trying to bring out the awareness of the wrongful conviction.”
Mr. Gonzalez explained that the proceeds from this event will fund their hopeful hire of Todd Melnik. Melnik is best known for Netflix’s documentary, “Long Shot,” which tells the story of Juan Catalan, who was charged in 2003 with the murder of 16-year-old Martha Puebla . Mr. Catalan claimed he was at LA Dodger Stadium with his daughter on the night of the murder.
It turned out there was a film crew at the ballpark that night. Mr. Melnik found out that Larry David was shooting “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Seeking to establish his client’s alibi, Mr. Melnik looked through the outtakes shot at the ballpark packed with 56,000 fans, and, to his surprise, found Mr. Catalan.
He was able to free Mr. Catalan after the defendant spent more than five months in jail. Mr. Catalan was cleared of all charges and released.
There were lots of problems in the conviction of Justin Gonzalez, including a witness – too afraid to come forward – who has said that Mr. Gonzalez was never there at the scene of the actual stabbing. That is what former co-defendant Ruby Aradoz testified to during the secret grand jury hearing last year.
But once she cut a deal to walk away a free person, she flipped her testimony.
Mr. Staten told the Vanguard, “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.”
But she cut a deal with the prosecution for basically full immunity. She would have all charges dropped against her and, instead of facing life in prison, she was allowed to walk. Couple that with her change in testimony and the convenient memory blocks she testified to, she should have been easily dismissed by the jury as a credible witness. Except that she was not.
As attorney Keith Staten put it, “I find it hard (to see) 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.”
The event is Saturday, March 24 at the Davis Odd Fellows Hall on Second Street. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the door. They can be purchased in advance at paypal.me/ofjusticeandmercy.
There will be a viewing of “Long Shot” during the dinner and presentation.
The dinner will also feature Yolo County District Attorney candidate, Dean Johansson. Mr. Johansson will speak about his decision to run for district attorney and his plan for change.
For more information: https://www.facebook.com/events/114191896029215/