Update: Adrian Jerry “A.J.” Gonzalez’s official hearing date set for Aug. 21, more than two years after Gonzalez was initially arrested for the suspected murder of Madyson “Maddy” Middleton. Gonzalez was present at the May 5 proceedings.
The next hearing for 17-year-old Adrian Jerry “A.J.” Gonzalez — who is charged with killing and sexually assaulting Madyson “Maddy” Middleton two years ago — is set for May 5.
Gonzalez is suspected of luring 8-year-old Middleton, who was his neighbor at the Tannery Arts Center, into his family’s apartment in July 2015. Middleton was missing for one day, and her body was found in a recycling can at the Tannery. Gonzalez was arrested when police spotted him close to the dumpster bin when the body was found.
Gonzalez faces charges of murder, forcible rape, kidnapping, lewd acts with a child younger than 14, sexual penetration with an instrument and a special enhancement of lying in wait.
A public juvenile court hearing on March 24 at the Santa Cruz County Superior Court scheduled the next hearing for May 5, postponing the decision of whether Gonzalez will be tried as a juvenile or an adult. Originally the prosecutors charged Gonzalez as an adult, but the trial has been upended by Proposition 57. That proposition took effect after the crime but before official proceedings, bringing the case from adult to juvenile court. It is now the decision of the judge, not the prosecutors, to determine if Gonzalez will be tried as an adult or a minor.
Typically, juvenile cases are closed to the public, however, serious charges like this case are open. Since being brought to juvenile court, Gonzalez’s records have been removed from public record on the court website. Gonzalez was not present at the hearing.
Public defenders Larry Biggam and Leila Sayer were appointed to Gonzalez. The next hearing was moved back in anticipation of Gonzalez’s probation report. If Gonzalez is tried as an adult, he could face life in prison.
Known as the Public Safety and Rehabilitation Act of 2016, Proposition 57 was passed in 2016 and enacted at the beginning of this year. Supported by Gov. Jerry Brown and a significant majority of California voters, this proposition is said to be the largest rehaul of the state prison system. The law’s language is intended to “stop the revolving door of crime by emphasizing rehabilitation, especially for juveniles,” and to reduce the cost of the prison system for taxpayers.
There are two major ways the law attempts to do this:
1) This law increases the chance of parole and good behavior opportunities for felons of non-violent crimes.
2) This law requires judges, not prosecutors, to decide if minors should be tried as juveniles or adults.
Enacting these two pieces of the measure has proven difficult. In Brown’s January budget proposal, he excluded all sex offenders from early parole consideration, including non-violent ones. The exact definition of felons who qualify for these chances is unclear and is currently being debated. Although this part of the law doesn’t affect Adrian “A.J.” Gonzalez, it proves overhauling the entire justice system in the state is more complicated than a ballot measure.
For minors charged of a crime, like Gonzalez, a judge will take into account age, maturity, intellectual capacity and physical, mental and emotional health at the time of the alleged offense when deciding if the minor should be tried as an adult or not.