Adrian “A.J.” Gonzalez was a 15-year-old freshman in high school when he allegedly lured, forcibly raped and killed 8-year-old Madyson Middleton. Now, at age 18, Gonzalez will stand trial as an adult for six different felonies, including kidnapping, murder and sexual assault-related offenses.
After a nine-week transfer hearing, on Oct. 24, Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge John Salazar decided Gonzalez is unfit for the juvenile courts designed to rehabilitate wards younger than 23. Judge Salazar ordered Gonzalez to be immediately moved to Santa Cruz County Jail among adult inmates. The severity of the crime warranted adult courts, Salazar said. Salazar also took Gonzalez’s sophistication and intelligence into account.
“This case right here was determined by Judge Salazar to be one that is incredibly grave, extreme and alarming in terms of the type of case and the type of impact it has had on the community,” said Assistant District Attorney Rafael Vazquez.
Gonzalez admitted on tape during police interviews to luring, trying to rape and killing Middleton in 2015.
If convicted as an adult, Gonzalez could spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance of parole. Had he been tried as a juvenile, Gonzalez could have spent a maximum five years in the juvenile system, plus two years probation.
“The law says they have to consider not only the gravity of the crime but they have to consider the emotional and mental state of the minor during the time of the crime and his state of mind was extreme depression and suicidality,” said Larry Biggam, Gonzalez’s attorney and Santa Cruz County public defender.
Biggam said all sides, including the judge, agreed on Gonzalez’s need for treatment, but the judge’s ruling would put him in county jail with little to no treatment. In contrast, the juvenile system offers the psychiatric services Biggam feels are necessary to reform Gonzalez.
It was an understandable decision, Biggam said, but he doesn’t think the ruling is supported by evidence or the new California Parole for Non-Violent Criminals and Juvenile Court Trial Requirements Initiative, also known as Proposition 57.
Proposition 57, passed on Nov. 8, 2016, allows juvenile court judges to determine whether juveniles 14 and older should be prosecuted and sentenced as adults.
“I think that’s good public policy,” Biggam said. “But judges [are] under a lot of pressure. The ultimate decision in a transfer hearing is the kid. It’s not about the crime, it’s the kid — is he amenable or not to treatment?”
Biggam believes the decision to try Gonzalez as an adult is counterproductive, as he would not receive proper treatment for his mental health and would be exposed to a more “predatory” prison population.
Gonzalez’s first hearing in adult court is set for late November in the Santa Cruz County Superior Court, but Biggam expressed his plans to appeal the judge’s decision to have Gonzalez tried as an adult in the coming weeks, which may prolong the process.