Commentary: DNA Evidence Casts Further Doubt on Murder Retrial of Justin Gonzalez

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Woodland, CA – On Monday, even before jury selection began, the defense dealt another serious blow to Yolo County Deputy DA Robin Johnson’s chances of getting a second conviction of Justin Gonzalez.  Ron Johnson, the Public Defender representing Gonzalez in this matter, informed the court about the DNA results from the T-shirt Gonzalez wore on the night of the murder in 2017.

Analysts found DNA from Gonzalez but not the victim on the shirt.  That’s going to be a huge problem for the prosecution when they attempt to establish direct aiding and abetting.

Gonzalez was convicted of second-degree murder in 2017 for his part in the killings that took place at Case del Sol in Woodland back in 2016.  Gonzalez has always maintained his innocence, and changes to state law now have given him an opportunity for a new trial which is set for October 2, 2023.

That change to state law shut off one avenue to conviction.

As Ron Johnson explained in an earlier motion, “Gonzalez’s previous conviction for second degree murder flows from the actions of his co-defendant, the actual killer in this case. With the elimination of the natural and probable consequence theory of liability, the only theory left for the People to pursue under the circumstances would be as a direct aider and abettor to the killing with knowledge of the perpetrator’s intent and a shared intent to accomplish the killing.”

He added, “The difference in the first jury’s verdicts alone cast doubt on liability, as a direct aider and abettor shares the killer’s intent and Mr. Gonzalez was only convicted of second-degree murder as compared to Mr. Velazquez, who was convicted of first-degree murder.”

Without natural and probable consequences the prosecution is going to have to prove that Gonzalez held the victim while he was stabbed by co-defendant Velasquez as one witness testified.

But now the prosecution is going to have to explain how it is possible that the witness—whose credibility has always been in question—could be right if there is not DNA of the victim found on the shirt Gonzalez wore.

Logic says if someone is stabbed to death, an involved person is likely to be covered in blood—and yet none was found.

Even before the DNA test came in, Ron Johnson noted “the lack of any forensic evidence such as blood or DNA found on Mr. Gonzalez’s clothing collected at the time of arrest, which would be expected had he indeed held onto the deceased in a bear hug at the time he was stabbed as Raquel P testified.”

Johnson argues that the testimony of that witness is contradicted by “the video of actions leading up to the stabbing which showed Mr. Velasquez running toward the area where the stabbing occurred on his own a full fourteen seconds before Mr. Gonzalez is seen at the same point and at a significant distance behind him.”

Ron Johnson made a valiant effort in July to get Gonzalez released on bail or even get Judge McAdam to reconsider the evidence.

Judge McAdam wasn’t quite ready to do that.

“The problem I have is that your position is that the defendant was convicted of second degree murder and if the prosecution argued both theories, it’s hard to say what the jury convicted on,” said Judge McAdam.

But even the judge was dubious about the weight of that evidence.

“One of the strengths of (the defense) and the defendant’s position here is if the direct aiding and abetting theory of prosecution rests solely or principally on (the witness) testimony—I mean Justice Murray’s obliterated that testimony and then (the defense) highlights other problems with it… are we missing something?” inquired Judge McAdam.

“Is there something more than (the witness) testimony to support the theory of the case that this defendant held the victim down, while the co-defendant stabbed him?” continued Judge McAdam.

However, the prosecution replied that other witnesses can offer assistance to theory and testimony.

“No, I get that. Listen, you know, (the witness) contradicted herself…she showed up to the police station, seeking U Visa accommodations and victim compensation. I mean, if what Justice Murray said is not true, then I agree with you, but if he gave a fair summary of it, then that’s a concern about the weight of the testimony,” stated Judge McAdam.

Judge McAdam added, “I don’t see how any reasonable jury can believe (the witness) testimony if Justice Murray’s summary is accurate and if that were the sole basis for the aiding and abetting theory. That’s why I asked (about] what other evidence should I be focused on.”

The fact is that this was all articulated prior to the knowledge about the DNA evidence.

For the defense, the path is now pretty clear.  Natural and probable consequences is off the table.  The DA is going to have to argue direct aiding and abetting.  If that’s the case, and the testimony relies mainly on one witness whom an appellate judge found to be not credible and contradicted by DNA evidence—how do they do that?

All along Justin Gonzalez has maintained his innocence.  When he was sentenced to 70 to life, he 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.”

Opening arguments are set for Yolo County Court in Woodland on Monday, October 16.

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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