COURT WATCH: Witness Stories Conflict with Expert Analysis in Gonzalez Murder Retrial Friday Morning

By Citlalli Florez

WOODLAND, CA – The Justin Gonzalez murder retrial reconvened Friday morning in Yolo County Superior Court before the jury, and the parties brought the truthfulness and validity of witness statements into question based on new testimony.

The first witness that took the stand was Lawrence Chavez, whom Deputy Public Defender Ron Johnson wanted to examine because of Chavez’s relationship with Christian Hernandez—Hernandez passed away two and a half weeks ago.

According to Chavez, who said he first met Hernandez when he was a paraprofessional and a varsity football coach, said “there were various times where he not only carried himself in a very mature manner but was also a leader. He was somebody I looked to, to help with team management or anything related to leadership roles.”

DPD Johnson asked Chavez if he believed Hernandez was the type of person who would be honest when questioned by police about what he had seen.

Chavez replied, “Based on what I know of his character and over the time I knew him, I would.” The witness was dismissed and there was no cross-examination by Deputy District Attorney Robin Johnson.

The next witness called was Sujey Roque, a paralegal, legal assistant, and interpreter. The witness is familiar with Raquel Ponce because Ponce was a client of the office.

According to Roque, Ponce had come to ask about obtaining a visa. Roque recalled “there was an incident that she witnessed, and she came to the office and she had a lot of questions about what to do and where to start. She had heard that if you had ever been a victim of a crime that you could qualify for a U-Visa.”

Malinda Collins was the next witness, who began her testimony Thursday. The DDA asked Collins if she had viewed the trial beforehand through YouTube. Collins stated, “Yes, but only the first day.”

Collins had been a co-accused in the case and was convicted for involuntary manslaughter. Referencing Thursday’s hearing, it was revealed Collins was in the vehicle headed towards the Casa del Sol Mobile Home Park with Ruby Aradoz, and a man she did not recognize.

Collins exited the vehicle and headed for the trailer to contact “Oso.” She didn’t know the actual purpose, but she was told to do it. They left the mobile home marked 77. When asked about the two other men, Collins stated, “The boys came out of the trailer.”

She added that she did not know how she knew nor did she remember where the guys came from, but assumed that they came out of trailer 77 based on the way they were trying to catch up with her.

Collins continuously claims she doesn’t remember much from that day especially since she was “drinking, minding my own business.” She then remembers that the men allegedly stopped to talk to her for a couple seconds. She saw an individual on a skateboard pass by. Collins thought the men possibly said something about the person on the skateboard to each other, then left.

According to Collins, she had given a pocket knife to “Morning Feather,” or Aradoz. The blade was allegedly roughly three inches. Collins recalled “she said that she had problems with people, and, as I said yesterday, I always carry one on me for a million reasons: safety, comfort, anytime you need to open a box.”

Collins had talked with police officers and with the public defender’s office. When she talked to the public defender’s office more recently, this year, she had allegedly stated, “Oso said, ‘Isn’t that the motherf-cker’ and the other guy said, ‘Let’s get him.’” However, now the witness said she does not recall if Oso said the first statement or both statements.

According to the witness, after the men took off it looked as if they were headed in the same direction as “the guy on the skateboard.” Collins said she then walked back to the front of the trailer in the same direction as the men and the skateboarder.

When Collins turned a corner she said she saw someone named Vanessa, who asked Collins if she had seen what the men were wearing and Collins answered that the boys went after a skateboarder.

Collins said she proceeded to run with Vanessa because she was drunk. However, she added she noticed that Vanessa seemed frantic looking for the men.

Collins explained she made it near the mobile home park and looked for the people she came with and no longer paid much attention to what Vanessa was doing. She said she saw “Morning Feather” and noticed that Aradoz was screaming and upset because she had a cut on her arm.

DDA Johnson asked if she had started running because of the screaming. Collins agreed, but then stated, “I’m trying to remember this from a situation that happened that I wasn’t really paying attention to in the first place back when it happened.”

Collins eventually caught up to Aradoz and said she asked what the response from Oso was when they knocked on trailer 77. However,  Collins added Aradoz was still kind of freaking out because of a cut she had sustained.

The cut was uncovered and she allegedly pointed and said “he went that way” referring to a guy on a bike. During the cross-examination, Collins acknowledged that she was explaining more now then she had to the district attorney’s office earlier.

Collins testified she took off jogging, but doesn’t know why, and was allegedly looking for a guy on a bike. She didn’t find the guy on a bike after running around the block, she said, and eventually ran into Aradoz again who had a knife in her hand and allegedly stated that “we just stabbed somebody.” After Collins asked who, Aradoz allegedly pointed again and said “that way.” Collins said she ran to see if it was true because she didn’t know if Aradoz was serious.

The witness said she stopped running after seeing Antonio on the stairs and pavement. She said  she attempted to move him, but couldn’t because a woman came outside of a trailer and yelled not to touch him.

There were more people surrounding Antonio, and Collins told the court she decided to take off running because the woman on the phone was describing her.

The witness said she thought she was being helpful because a man was killed. She added when she was speaking to the police she didn’t trust them; she also didn’t want to incriminate herself.

Collins thought the officers were acting suspiciously but told them the truth anyway. However, the witness also admitted to omitting some information. At the end of the interview with the officers, Collins ended up arrested.

Chris Coleman was the next witness. He is a senior forensic scientist with Forensic Analytical.

Coleman, an expert witness paid to give his testimony, said he reviewed the Gonzalez case and was given several items, including a transcript from a prior proceeding of Ponce Perez’s testimony and testimony from Hernandez, a set of photographs from the crime scene and an autopsy report with photos. Coleman also went to the scene of the crime.

Coleman stated he believes Gonzalez would have a lot of blood on his person if he had bear-hugged the victim. The blood flowed out heavily because of the location of wounds on his body, he added, noting, “If anyone would have been in contact with him, holding him while he was stabbed, they would have blood all over them as well.” He also noted that it’s also possible that the stabber would not have too much blood on them based on the method of stabbing.

The witness said he doesn’t believe the statement given by Ponce-Perez is consistent with the amount of blood on her. Ponce-Perez had allegedly stated she moved Antonio from a bench to the stairs. He claims that if Antonio landed on the bench, there would be blood all over it, but the expert said there was no blood present on the bench based on the photographs. Coleman also believes that anyone moving him would have gotten a significant amount of blood on them.

DDA Johnson cross-examined the witness and stated Coleman had made a determination of evidence in the case based on his statement, “I don’t believe anyone was actually holding the victim when he was stabbed.” He said that the person would have gotten blood on them while being held.

DDA Johnson argued it’s a possibility that the victim was held by another person after already being stabbed. She didn’t believe that the witness looked at other pieces of evidence. However, Coleman restated that he looked at the statements and police reports as well as the evidence.

Coleman argued that “the evidence doesn’t correspond to what Ponce was saying, but what Christian said…he said there were only two people involved, the victim and the stabber. That there wasn’t a third person involved.” DDA Johnson argued that Coleman did not know that Gonzalez changed clothes after the incident.

DPD Johnson revealed Coleman was in an email chain where there was discussion about testing the shirt for DNA and the lack of any blood on the shirt. He knew they were discussing Gonzalez’s shirt. The shirt with Gonzalez’s DNA did not have traces of Antonio’s DNA.

The trial is set to reconvene the following Monday.

About The Author

Citlalli Florez is a 4th year undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley. She is currently majoring in Legal Studies, Chicana/o Studies, and Art Practice. She intends to attend law school in the future with the purpose of gaining skills to further serve her community.

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