COURT WATCH: Investigator Pounded on Cross-Examination in Gonzalez Retrial Thursday

By Cheyenne Galloway and Madison Whittemore

WOODLAND, CA – Deputy District Attorney Robin Johnson, and Deputy Public Defender Ron Johnson questioned police Investigator Sergio Pimentel here in Yolo County Superior Court Thursday, probing inconsistencies between the video evidence and witness testimony in the ongoing second-degree murder retrial of Justin Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, fighting to prove his innocence in a retrial after being convicted of second-degree murder—his co-accused, Alexis Velazquez, was convicted of first-degree murder after the stabbing death of Ronald Antonio in Woodland’s Casa Del Sol in 2016.

DDA Johnson called gang task force Investigator Pimentel to examine video evidence of the various incidents that occurred at the intersection of Fiesta Way and Las Portales Lane before the stabbing of Antonio.

At this intersection, the court saw that two cameras captured the various individuals present at the scene entering and exiting the frame; however, the street cameras failed to recognize a blind spot, excluding any coverage of the northbound street on Fiesta Way.

Throughout the video footage, present individuals, including Gonzalez, Velazquez, Ruby Aradoz, Amanda Huffman, Malinda Collins, Raquel Ponce Perez, Isaiah Magone, Pedro Muñoz, and Antonio, are shown moving in and out of the blind spot area.

In the direct examination, DDA Johnson confirmed various locations and timestamps where Gonzalez and Velazquez are seen, given the camera angle. She also highlighted their actions, speed, and directions they appear to be facing, identifying other subjects surrounding the area, such as Aradoz, Huffman, and the white van described in previous court sessions.

Meanwhile, in the cross-examination, DPD Johnson honed in on the locations of the other individuals present at the scene, specifically Ponce Perez and Collins, to identify the inconsistencies in Ponce Perez’s testimony as well as the lack of scrutiny from officer Pimentel regarding these discrepancies.

According to Pimentel, he has seen the relevant camera footage numerous times but never witnessed Ponce Perez in this footage, despite her testimony saying otherwise.

Recited by DPD Johnson and confirmed by Pimentel, Ponce Perez described in her testimony encountering two males, and noted one had a knife. Later, she testified to following the two males at some point, but this information is not seen in the video evidence presented in court.

In addition to describing the two males, Ponce Perez made statements concerning Collins in her discussion with Pimentel. According to this previous interview, Ponce Perez overheard Collins say, “There he is, stab ’em,” which Pimentel confirmed in his testimony Thursday, October 26.

According to Officer Pimentel, Ponce Perez believed Collins directed her statement to the two men Ponce Perez encountered minutes prior.

DPD Johnson and Investigator Pimentel went through the footage starting at timestamp 10:34:58, detailing the individuals in the frame, yet Collins remains out of sight.

By timestamp 10:35:44, Velazquez appeared visible on screen as he began to run after someone, Huffman following behind. In camera one, timestamp 10:35:50, Antonio is then seen running away, shortly followed by Aradoz; reportedly, everyone has begun fleeing the scene, yet Collins remains unseen in the video footage.

Collins remained absent from the film until timestamp 10:36:01, where she comes into view at the corner of Fiesta and East Cross; nevertheless, Ponce Perez told Pimentel that Collins was at the intersection of Los Portales and Fiesta.

“How is it given what you see here that you took Mrs. Ponce’s statement at face value that she heard Collins say, ‘Get that guy, stab ’em?’” DPD Johnson asked witness Pimentel.

Pimentel replied, “Well, our interaction was at the corner of Los Portales Lane and Casa Grande Boulevard, and here’s what she related to me. That’s when she heard her state that, whether it was to go get someone, I can assume what she meant by that.”

DPD Johnson continued to question Pimentel, cross-referencing between the video footage of Collins and the information provided to Pimentel by Ponce Perez during her interview.

Pimentel, unable to definitively answer DPD Johnson’s about Collin’s arrival concerning the white van, was interrupted by DPD Johnson, who said, “This is sort of my point; you evaluate the testimony or the statements from Ponce Perez and compare them to the video. It sounds like you’re theorizing how it could happen rather than scrutinizing whether she may be telling you the truth. Is that fair to say?”

Pimentel quickly replied no, despite having conflicting statements about the number of people present at the stabbing scene because witness Christian Hernandez told you (officer Pimentel) that there was only one assailant during the stabbing.” Concurrently, Ponce Perez identified two people at the stabbing, with one person holding the victim and the other stabbing, according to records divulged by DPD Johnson.

Christian Hernandez reportedly maintained firm in his statement that there was only one stabbing, even when asked if there could have possibly been another officer besides Pimentel. “And when he didn’t know something or couldn’t remember something, he just said, I can’t remember, I don’t know. Never tried to mislead you with anything, right?” And Pimentel agreed.

“Other than the inconsistencies between the two witnesses, did you find any other evidence that Christian Hernandez was lying or not telling you the complete truth?” asked DPD Johnson, to which Pimentel replied no.

Nevertheless, Ponce Perez told multiple versions of the story that are inconsistent with the scenes in the video evidence, it was suggested.

In addition to Ponce Perez, Pimentel interviewed Aradoz, during which he said he tried to extract the information he was looking for from the witness.

Officer Pimentel admitted in his testimony that he knew what happened. However, he stated he did not assume Gonzalez’s involvement from the onset, Pimentel had believed, he said, Gonzalez was a suspect by the following morning.

The public defender then asked, “When you were not getting information that made him or that fit with your narrative of how the crime happened, you would tell the witnesses you had other information, right?” To which officer Pimentel agreed.

The officer said Ponce Perez and Aradoz changed their statements over time as Pimentel asked more questions.

DPD Johnson then circled back to the interview with Collins, who was also arrested and charged with murder, which prompted DPD Johnson to ponder Pimentel’s theory behind the arrest as the lead investigator for the case.

The theory stated by officer Pimentel was, “She was present and heard statements from witnesses. She was directing people on where to go, which ultimately resulted in the stabbing of Mr. Antonio.”

As highlighted by DPD Johnson, this reasoning for the arrest does not align with the evidence in the video.

However, due to the blind spot in the camera angles, nothing can be seen on Casa Grande Boulevard, where she is seen going toward in the video. Under Pimentel’s theory, it is during this time, while walking down the above street, she pointed toward the direction of where the homicide happened.

“Who is she pointing to? Is she encouraging Mr. Velasquez? Is that the theory?” asked DPD Johnson.

“I don’t know,” replied Pimentel. To which DPD Johnson retorted, “You made the arrest, right?”

However, after watching the video evidence, the court knows that no one was in the location that Collins reportedly pointed to and that no one knows Collins’ exact location while pointing.

Officer Pimentel stated they didn’t know where Collins stood, with the only information coming from Ponce Perez. Thus, Pimentel determined Melinda Collins’ location from Perez’s shaky testimony.

“Let me ask you this; you’re investigating this crime, you have conflicting witnesses, you have video evidence, and the statement that you had at the time back in 2016 from Mrs. Ponce Perez is that during the stabbing, Mr. Gonzalez is bear hugging the deceased, right?” DPD Johnson inquired, and officer Pimentel agreed, admitting that he did not know what was collected from the search and that there was no blood on Gonzalez’s shirt.

DPD Johnson continued, “And you had seen photos? And there was blood everywhere, starting from where the stabbing happened up to where Antonio passed away. At any time did it occur to you to say hey, does he (the accused) have blood on him? Did he have blood on the clothes he was wearing? What got collected? Do you think about those things?”

Pimentel grunted a no before stating that another detective had collected that information.

During cross-examination, Pimentel was questioned by DPD Johnson about the time frame of when the homicide happened.

According to surveillance footage from Casa Del Sol and when Velasquez and Gonzalez were caught on and off camera, the altercation leading to Antonio’s death filled with “running, tackling, and stabbing” was about 50 seconds long.

However, as DPD Johnson pointed out on the surveillance footage, Gonzalez is seen on camera for at least 20 seconds out of the 50 seconds when the altercation was taking place in a different part of Casa Del Sol.

DPD Johnson persistently interrogated Pimentel regarding the pivotal eyewitness, Aradoz, whom Pimentel had previously interviewed twice during the initial phases of the case.

Aradoz, a former accused in the trial, had struck a plea deal during the original trial, leading to the dismissal of her charges, and shortly after became a key witness in Gonzalez’s case.

But despite being the key eyewitness, Aradoz was allegedly blackout drunk during the night of Aug. 30 and has testified multiple times, later admitting to not being completely truthful on the witness stand.

According to transcripts from Pimentel’s past interviews with Aradoz, she blames much of her confusion about the night of Aug. 30 on how much information she has heard throughout the case—especially because she previously was an accused.

“I feel like it’s been so long and after having to go through this whole thing I feel influenced by everything I’ve been hearing and I don’t know how to explain it to you guys,” Aradoz stated to Pimentel during a prior interview.

DPD Johnson also questioned Pimentel about another statement Aradoz had made during the same interview, where she said, “I don’t remember where Justin was” when Antonio was being stabbed, also adding that “I don’t remember, I really don’t, there’s a lot that I don’t f–-king remember.”

Judge Samuel McAdam called up the last witness of the day to the stand Thursday—Collins, per the request of public defender Johnson.

DPD Johnson first questioned Collins about her living arrangements and whether or not she was receiving any benefits or housing security from testifying in this trial.

Collins explained she was currently unhoused and was not receiving any benefits from testifying from the defense or the prosecution.

On Aug. 30, 2016, Collins happened to be at the same park as Aradoz and was also drinking. Collins explained she wasn’t friends with Aradoz but during high school, Ruby’s brother was her high school sweetheart. Aradoz recognized Collins in the park and Collins eventually left with Aradoz and her friends to get more alcohol from the store.

Collins explained that after purchasing more alcohol, Aradoz requested they go to Casa Del Sol because she was romantically involved with a man who lived there, “Oso” or Alexis Velasquez, and wanted to talk to him because he had started “messing around” with Tello—whom Aradoz was once friends with.

At this point during her testimony, Collins revealed that as an unhoused woman, she always carried a legal pocket knife on her for protection and during the ride to Casa Del Sol with Aradoz, Collins had given Aradoz the knife for “comfort, self-defense.”

Collins resumed her recap of Aug. 30 and explained that once they arrived at Casa Del Sol, Aradoz sent her to trailer #77 (Tello’s trailer) to inquire about Velasquez’s whereabouts.

Once at the trailer, Tello’s cousin answered the door and said that everyone including Velasquez had been drinking and they were trying to be quiet because children were sleeping in the trailer.

Collins stated she left Tello’s trailer and shortly after saw two men exit the trailer, with Velasquez leaving rapidly compared to Gonzalez. Seconds after the men left, Tello’s cousin exited the trailer and approached Collins, questioning her where the two men went.

Just moments after, yelling was heard and Collins ran through the trailer park to find Aradoz, who had a bloody cut on her arm from an unknown man on a bike. Collins explained that she was determined to find Aradoz’s attacker and walked around, trying to find the perpetrator.

However, she did not find the perpetrator and when she returned back to Casa Del Sol, Aradoz looked at her while pointing down a street and said, “We just stabbed him.”

“I came up to a man (the murdered Antonio) who was laying on his back…He had no shirt on,” Collins testified, also adding that “I saw that he had been stabbed. I ran over to him and was attempting to move the rock out from underneath his head.”

Collins was warned not to touch Antonio by a woman standing on the porch who was on the phone with 911 and she left Casa Del Sol to take Aradoz to the hospital.

Collins concluded by emphasizing that she questioned Aradoz about stabbing Antonio but Aradoz refused to talk or explain anything.

DDA Johnson will resume cross-examination of Collins Friday.

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