By David M. Greenwald
Woodland, CA – Five years after Justin Gonzalez and Alexis Velazquez were convicted of murdering Ronald Antonio at Case del Sol in Woodland, the murder conviction for Gonzalez was overturned, the case severed from Velazquez, and it appears that the Yolo County DA will retry the case.
The case on Tuesday came before Judge Stephen Mock, sitting in as a visiting judge now, and was held over for two weeks. Judge Mock appointed Ron Johnson of the Public Defender’s Office to represent Gonzalez. Robin Johnson will now prosecute the case as opposed to Michael Vroman and DA Jeff Reisig himself in the original trial.
Gonzalez has always maintained his innocence, and the defense questioned evidence that was not turned over during the trial.
Judge Dan Maguire acknowledged he was troubled that he was holding a CD with a recording that the defense did not have access to during the trial. However, he ended up ruling that, given the thoroughness on which the defense was able to discredit witness Ruby Aradoz even without this key evidence, even if the defense had had access to the recording, it would have made no difference in the outcome in the trial.
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 was sentenced to an effective life without parole as he received a 70 year to life sentence.
The jury found Gonzalez guilty of second degree murder and Velazquez guilty of first degree murder.
However, under SB 1437, the natural and probable consequences doctrine as it relates to murder was eliminated. Furthermore, SB 775 also applies retroactively and permits him to raise the elimination of the natural and probable consequences doctrine on direct appeal.
The Attorney General conceded that both SB 1437 and SB 775 apply retroactively, but argued that Gonzalez was not entitled to reversal.
The appellate court disagreed and reversed Gonzalez’s conviction for the murder.
The court noted that, in his closing, Michael Vroman told the jury, “The other way you can get to second-degree murder on Mr. Gonzalez—and there’s actually two other ways, but I’m just going to talk about one for purposes of this rebuttal—and that’s the theory of natural and probable consequence [sic]. And the way the law finds it is this: If you find that Mr. Gonzalez and Mr. Velazquez were out that night engaging in what’s called an assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury, they were engaged in conduct that was likely to produce an assaultive great bodily injury on somebody. And as a result of that assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury, Alexis Velazquez actually killed somebody, in this case Mr. Antonio. Mr. Gonzalez is guilty of second-degree murder if you believe that that murder that Mr. Velazquez committed was a natural and probable consequence of the assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury.”
Here the jury found Gonzalez not guilty of first degree murder, but guilty of second degree murder.
The AG argued that there was “overwhelming evidence that Gonzalez participated directly in the murder,” and cited evidence that a witness testified that Gonzalez held Antonio.
However, the court notes “the prosecutor relied heavily in rebuttal argument on the natural and probable consequences doctrine rendered invalid by Senate Bill 1437 and Senate Bill 775, and did not discuss direct aider and abettor liability.”
It is believed that the DA will retry the case, arguing for the aiding and abetting liability. However, they might have more difficulty this time, as the defense now has witnesses that directly contradict those eyewitness accounts and the key testimony was given by a witness who received leniency in exchange for testimony against Gonzalez.