Commentary: DA Doubles Down on Imploding Case

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Woodland, CA – One thing I have learned in my nearly 15 years of court coverage—never take a jury for granted.  Still, Justin Gonzalez seems to be in good shape in his second trial for what the DA believes is his part in a 2016 murder at the Casa Del Sol in Woodland.

Gonzalez benefitted from the change in the law that eliminated the possibility of using natural and probable consequences as a theory of murder.  As a result, the DA is going to have to convince a jury that Gonzalez actually physically held the victim, Ronald Antonio, as Alexis Valasquez stabbed him to death.

That’s a tall order, in part because it is contradicted by two key pieces of physical evidence, and because the only two witnesses that can place him literally at the murder have some problems—as we shall see in a moment.

In his opening arguments, Public Defender Ron Johnson noted, “It is striking to me how great an example this is of a case where eyewitness fallibility causes issues and people to jump to conclusions.”  He added, “It’s almost a case study of the dangers of people relying solely on eyewitness identifications and eyewitness testimony.”

As he explained, the reason we know this is the video evidence—incomplete as it is—but perhaps just as importantly is newly discovered DNA evidence.

For reasons we don’t understand, the DOJ in 2016 never tested Justin Gonzalez’s shirt for DNA.  When they did, they found no evidence of the victim’s DNA on Gonzalez’s shirt.

“If Mr. Gonzalez was holding onto Antonio…you would have expected to see some blood evidence on Gonzalez’s shirt, clothes,” DPD Johnson explained.  Moreover, they didn’t find Antonio’s sweat DNA either—on a warm August evening, and Antonio shirtless at the time he was stabbed, you would expect to find DNA from sweat and blood on Gonzalez’s shirt had the witnesses been correct.

And yet there was DA Robin Johnson (no relation), doubling down on the only theory they can put before a jury at this point—that Gonzalez was a direct aider and abettor, meaning he held the victim as he was stabbed.

We have now already seen the two key witnesses for the prosecution.

On Monday, Ruby Aradoz, who was originally a defendant in the case and watched most of the trial, then flipped at the end to testify for the prosecution in exchange for a lenient sentence.

That fact alone would make her testimony questionable.

The trial judge in 2017—Judge Dan Maguire—found her testimony unbelievable.  And if anything she presented worse this time.  She was so combative on the stand that the judge actually admonished her that there would be a jury instruction about her credibility—in front of the jury.

Her memory is foggy, and her story has changed several times over the years.  She claims she was scared and lied before.  But, as belligerent as she was, it is hard to imagine any credibility.

On the other hand, Raquel Ponce-Perez, speaking through an interpreter, does come across as polite and caring.

The problem is that what she testifies to seems contradicted by the two pieces of physical evidence.

She testified that she saw the men “running together” after the victim.  She said they were separated when running but were “back together” by the time they reached Antonio.

That part is contradicted by video evidence that shows Gonzalez a full 14 seconds behind Valasquez.  They disappear from camera for roughly 45 seconds as the murder occurs, but for the first 14 or 15 seconds, Valasquez is alone.

And yet, Ponce-Perez testified that Gonzalez reached Antonio first and held him while Valasquez stabbed him.

The other problem is now the DNA evidence which the defense obviously didn’t have in the first trial.  How is it that Gonzalez holds the sweating and bleeding Antonio without getting any of his DNA on his shirt?

Robin Johnson is going to rely on this gang theory that they were “hood checking” the trailer park looking for rival gang members, and mistakenly believed Antonio was a Sureño, but, given that she has to prove Gonzalez directly aided and abetted the murder by holding Antonio, I don’t see how the evidence can support a conviction.

But I have learned never to take a jury verdict for granted.  Stranger things have happened.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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