COURT WATCH: Justin Gonzalez Retrial/Wednesday A.M. – DOJ Criminalist Confirms ‘Strong Support of Exclusion’ of Victim’s DNA on Accused’s Shirt

By Avery Redula, Nico Ludwig-Stock and Annie Rudolph

WOODLAND, CA – The re-trial of Justin Gonzalez proceeded this Wednesday in Yolo County Superior Court, where the jury heard key testimony regarding DNA evidence, specifically that experts did not find any evidence of victim Ronald Antonio’s DNA on the t-shirt Gonzalez wore the night of the murder.

Deputy District Attorney (DDA) Robin Johnson early Wednesday called two Woodland police officers who responded to Unit 77 of the Casa Del Sol trailer park, the scene of the incident.

Later, a police officer who transported DNA evidence, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) criminalist who subsequently analyzed this evidence were called to the stand.

Woodland Police Officer Joshua Amoruso testified to his obtaining of a buccal DNA swab from the accused, Justin Gonzalez.

His testimony was interrupted by commotion and expletive verbal shouting in a nearby holding cell. Judge Samuel McAdam had the court and jury excused, so as not to be influenced by outside unrelated matters in receiving this testimony.

After the brief recess following the outburst, the jury heard from several other witnesses, including Community Service Officer Susan Stewart, who was assigned to the evidence room, and reported that she transported DNA swabs and a pair of jean shorts to the forensics lab.

Upon cross-examination by Deputy Public Defender (DPD) Ron Johnson, CSO Stewart revealed she did not ask why the white t-shirt was not taken in for DNA testing back in 2016. She said she was given evidence from her supervisor to analyze and said simply on the witness stand, “I just do what I am told.”

Officer Richard Towle, a sergeant with the Woodland Police Department, was dispatched to the Casa Del Sol trailer park. Once there, he began coordinating crime scene investigations and the collection of evidence.

He reported locating a white t-shirt on the floor of the living room in Unit 77. He also said he found a black wallet on the counter, and, in the kitchen, a box of ammunition inside the microwave. Officer Towle also located a pair of jean shorts in a pile of clothes in one of the bedrooms with an ID and credit card in the back pocket.

On direct examination, DDA Johnson asked this officer about a particular knife with a white handle, but the officer could not recall what knife she was referring to. DDA Johnson gave the sergeant previous court testimony in an attempt to refresh his memory, but he was still not able to recall the white handle.

On cross-examination by DPD Johnson, the officer explained they were looking for white shirts because he knew that was what the suspects were seen wearing at the time of the crime. He said he collected any white shirts he found in the residence.

Officer Ted Ruiz was then called to the stand. He described being at the trailer park with a few other officers the night of the incident. Initially they had heard that there were possibly involved parties around Unit 79, but this turned out not to be the case. While there, he said his fellow Officer John Riley pointed out a white van by Unit 77.

As officer Ruiz explained, after the stabbing incident, someone was reportedly seen driving away in a white van. To figure out if this van had recently been driven, Ruiz said he placed his hand over the hood of the van, finding it was still warm. He also noted the front passenger window was partially down. Inside the van they found an ID card belonging to Cynthia Tello.

The officers announced themselves to Tello in Unit 77 and after initially speaking with her, they were able to attain lawful entry later that night, Ruiz said, adding they conducted a protective sweep of the residence to ensure there were no other victims.

On direct examination by DDA Johnson, Ruiz said “the furniture in the living room had been disturbed or moved. We had a discussion that there had been an attempt to barricade the trailer based on how the furniture was situated.”

On cross-examination by DPD Johnson, Officer Ruiz noted this observation was based on the placement of the furniture observed in the living room. As far as he knew, the officers did not have any issue getting into the residence due to barricades, and, as the officer explained, “I wasn’t in the initial group of officers that went in, but I don’t recall there being any issues with them making entry into the trailer.”

DOJ criminalist Lisa Langford, next on the stand, testified to evidence sent to her crime laboratory in Sacramento from 2016 shortly after the incident occurred, alongside new evidence found in 2023 that she analyzed.

The DOJ criminalist testified about the DNA analysis she performed regarding two crucial pieces of evidence in the case, jean shorts and a white t-shirt.

Langford said the jean shorts were originally analyzed in 2016, with the white t-shirt being recently added into discovery as evidence and only analyzed for DNA samples as of this year. The white t-shirt is central to this case as it is the shirt Gonzalez wore on the night of the murder back in 2016.

The DOJ criminalist explained both of her analyses compared DNA on the clothing items to DNA reference samples from Gonzalez, Velasquez, Tello, Ramos and the victim Ronald Antonio.

In analyzing blood stains found on the shorts, the witness confirmed that her 2016 DNA comparison showed the blood sample on the shorts to match the reference samples sent to her, both containing major contributions of DNA from the victim Antonio.

Through DDA Johnson’s direct examination, Langford explained any individual identified as a major contributor had large portions of their DNA in the sample in relation to other individuals.

Langford explained the DNA sample from the waistband showed four DNA contributors with strong evidence, and Velazquez as a major contributor, alongside victim Antonio as a major contributor of the blood stain.

The witness disclosed her recent findings on the DNA analysis she performed for the white t-shirt in September of this year. She explained she  performed an in-depth DNA test on this piece of evidence, sampling a minuscule blood stain and swabbing both the front of the t-shirt as well as the inside collar.

The expert witness stated there is a scale for measuring evidence of DNA inclusions in samples, noting there are two opposite ends of the scale, with “strong support of inclusion” meaning strong evidence of that individual’s DNA being in the sample, and “strong support of exclusion” meaning there is likely not any DNA evidence of the individual located in the sample.

In regard to the small, two-millimeter bloodstain, Lanford found there was strong evidence of inclusion of Velazquez’s DNA, and exclusion of DNA from the accused Gonzalez, Vanessa Ramos, Cynthia Tello and victim Antonio.

Langford said the DNA on the actual front exterior of the t-shirt showed very strong support for DNA inclusion for Vanessa Ramos and for Gonzalez.  There was also “limited support for exclusion for Alexis Valezquez,” meaning it would be hard to rule out that his DNA is on the shirt, Langford said.

The DOJ witness added, on the other hand, there was “limited support for inclusion for Cynthia Tello” and “strong support for exclusion of Ronald Antonio.”

Lastly, Langford said the sampling of the interior of the t-shirt collar contained DNA showing “very strong support for inclusion for Vanessa Ramos and Justin Gonzalez.”

In addition, Langford added, the analysis showed “limited support for exclusion for Cynthia Tello and Ronald Antonio” and “an exclusion of Alexis Velazquez.”

Langford explained these findings refer to the likelihood of each individual’s DNA being present in the sample, and said exclusion of DNA does not necessarily mean there is no DNA at all of that individual, but that there is highly likely evidence against that certain individual’s DNA being present.

Langford further explained DNA salience can increase or decrease depending on a variety of factors such as the type of DNA, whether it is rich DNA (fluids including saliva, semen, sweat, and blood) or DNA from skin contact which tends to be weaker.

The criminalist described how the transfer of DNA from one object to another becomes more likely depending on the type of DNA, the types of materials it is on, and the nature of the transfer (time, pressure, friction etc.).

During cross-examination, DPD Johnson inquired further about the nature of DNA transfer, asking, “If someone were shirtless on an August night, had just been running away for about 100 yards or so, and was in an excited state they might have more sweat on their body, would they not?” to which the witness replied, “Yes.”

DPD Johnson added, “And if someone were to grab that individual…that person is likely to have some DNA transfer from sweat, not just from touch, correct?” The witness replied, “Yes.”

When prompted by the public defender, the witness confirmed the likelihood of DNA transfer increases with pressure and friction.

DPD Jonhson elaborated, “So if that person grabbed them and it wasn’t just grabbing, but there was struggling going on…if the person is trying to get away or doing any kind of physical movement against the person that’s grabbing them that would increase the likelihood that you would see DNA transfer, would it not?” to which the witness replied, “Yes.”

DDA Johnson then redirected DOJ criminalist Langford and asked if there is a chance for sweat not to show up in DNA samples. Langford stated there is a chance, due to sweat being the lowest marker for DNA secretion out of all bodily fluids, as opposed to blood.

DPD Johnson countered, asking Langford whether it was true that, though it is possible for there to be no DNA sweat evidence on the sample, she would not be able to identify the likelihood of this event actually occurring.

Langford affirmed this statement and stated she has not done a test herself to see if it was likely that a sweat sample was missed.

About The Author

Avery Redula is a second year at UC Davis studying English. After undergrad she plans to attend law school, where she can pursue criminal law. She is most interested in cases regarding domestic violence and gang violence, as she learned from her summers spent at the DA's office that they are issues that most affect her home county of San Joaquin.

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