By Robert J. Hansen
The Third Appellate District Court reversed the second-degree murder conviction of Justin Gonzalez on Tuesday.
The Court’s decision to reverse the murder conviction was “really special” for Gonzalez’s defense attorney, Keith Staten.
“It was the righteous thing to do,” Staten said. “I applaud the appellate attorneys for doing their thing.”
The Court ruled “… the error in instructing the jury on the natural and probable consequences doctrine is not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt,” and why Gonzalez’s conviction had to be reversed.
Staten says there was a Brady violation in the case the justices did not address in their ruling.
He said a tape exists between witnesses and prosecutors that was not disclosed to him.
“There’s an issue where they didn’t get me the tape,” Staten said. “The court said they didn’t have to get to, whether or not, it was a violation to not give me what I wanted.”
“He cannot back out of any issues that went wrong,” Staten said.
The Court said in its disposition that “the People if they choose, may retry Gonzalez on count 1 (second-degree murder) …if they choose not to retry, the trial court is directed to resentence Gonzalez on count 2.”
Staten says there would be significant challenges for Yolo prosecutors should they decide to retry Count 1.
“The problem is their theory is gone. They went with embedding or a theory of natural and probable consequences and under SB 1437, that comes back,” Staten said. “You can give somebody second-degree murder on that.”
Staten said it would be difficult to see the Yolo District Attorney’s Office deciding to retry the case.
“They already used that theory, it would be very hard to say he (Gonzalez) aided and embedded,” Staten said.
Near the end of the trial, co-defendant Ruby Aradoz agreed to plead guilty to being an accessory after the fact to a felony, according to the Court’s ruling.
Prosecutors agreed to dismiss the charge if Aradoz provided truthful testimony and cooperated with the prosecution.
“They turned her the night before prosecution evidence was over,” Staten said. “I’ve been crying about this case for a while.”
Gonzalez’s picture is one of two cases that Staten has on his wall, one of two cases that he lost and felt thankful for the Court’s ruling.
“This means the world to me,” Staten said.
Investigator in the case, Marvin Mutch, thinks the justices “certainly got this one right.”
“It was a decision compelled by the facts, and the system worked as intended. This was an injustice that had to be put right; not just for the Gonzalez family, but to save ourselves as a society,” Mutch said. “We all won today.”
Mutch said it’s not sustainable for society to continue to keep throwing young lives away.
“Dozens of lives were changed in the wake of this tragic crime and the system only continued the harm as it tore a path through the community that left families separated and young lives destroyed,” Mutch said. “Anytime you have a system that ends up with more victims than it started with, it’s broken.”
Staten said anything could still happen and he needs Gonzalez to get home to start his life and cannot celebrate until he does.
“I can’t celebrate until my boy walks home,” Staten said. “I look forward to his next episode in life.”