By Michael McCutcheon
RIVERSIDE, CA – Christian Velasquez Rosales was found competent in Riverside County Superior Court Monday to stand trial in the sentencing phase for murder—but a psychologist claims his upbringing, living environment and IQ of 80 left Velasquez with little choice in life but to pursue criminal activities.
In November, Velasquez and his codefendant, Manuel Barbarin, Jr., were convicted in Riverside County Superior Court of first-degree murder with a hate crime enhancement for their drive=by killing of 14-year-old African American Lareanz Simmons in 2012.
Simmons, who was not gang-affiliated, was walking home from his friend’s house when Velasquez and Barbarin drove up beside him, stepped out of the vehicle, and shot and killed Simmons before driving away.
Now, however, the two face a new jury trial to determine whether or not they will be sentenced to death or receive life in prison without parole.
Monday, the defense counsel called Dr. Francisco Gomez as an expert witness. Dr. Gomez had previously conducted a psychological evaluation of Velasquez and found he had an IQ of 80 and the reading and understanding ability of a fifth grader.
According to Dr. Gomez, people with an IQ of 85 only make it through the 9th grade of school, while an IQ of 100 graduates high school, and an IQ of 110 graduates college.
He tied this to his further examination of Velasquez, noting there are empirical predictors of criminal behavior. In application to Velasquez, these include brain damage—Velasquez has Attention Deficit Disorder, a family history of criminal behavior and substance abuse, trauma, hyperactive disposition, and attention and learning problems.
Dr. Gomez also noted the lack of several protective factors, specifically the absence of social services in Velasquez’s community, rampant drug abuse and violence in his community, low intelligence, and a failure to gain a resilient temperament which, the doctor said, is usually derived from at least one person expressing their belief in the person in question.
Dr. Gomez likened Velasquez’s choice to engage in criminality to only having $1 at the grocery store, explaining that while one may have the choice to peruse the large selection and buy what one likes, the $1 limits what can actually be purchased.
The prosecution, led by Deputy District Attorney Kevin Beecham, responded to Dr. Gomez’s analogy, noting that while Velasquez was in a juvenile detention facility from ages 15 to 18, he participated, found success and gained certifications in many programs, specifically in anger management.
The prosecution argued Velasquez was then equipped to deal with his anger as he had been certified, and his choice to engage in the murder was not solely a product of his circumstances, but a conscious decision.
Dr. Gomez refuted this statement, insisting Velasquez only found success in various programs because the facility minimized his risk factors and provided a few protective factors.