The teen suspect at the center of a high-profile child killing will be tried as an adult, officials said this week.
You might recall the awful case: Eight-year-old Maddy Middleton was last seen riding a white Razor scooter outside Santa Cruz's Tannery Arts Center on July 26, 2015. After a frantic search, her body was discovered in a nearby dumpster.
A then-15-year-old neighbor named Adrian Jerry Gonzalez was arrested, with officials saying that the boy had raped and strangled the child before dumping her in the trash.
Gonzalez, who police say knew Maddy, allegedly lured the child to his family's apartment, where he allegedly attacked and killed her. He caught police attention by lurking around the trash bins on the first floor of the complex while the search for Middleton was taking place, news reports at the time said, and was even standing nearby watching as they searched the bin where the body was discovered.
Gonzalez pled not guilty to first-degree murder, with the special circumstances of sexual assault, kidnapping, and lying in wait following his arrest, and has remained in custody without bail since. News reports in June of 2016 promised a trial in February of 2017 — but obviously that didn't happen, as just this week a judge determined that the now 17-year-old Gonzalez, when he is tried, will do so as an adult.
According to the Santa Cruz Sentinel, the decision was made Tuesday after a nine-week "transfer hearing" to move Gonzalez from the county's juvenile justice system (which continues to work with wards until the age of 23) to its adult jail and eventually, court.
Gonzalez, who admitted on tape to the crime, "did not suit the juvenile system," Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge John Salazar said in his ruling.
Salazar summarized the testimony from many doctors and psychiatric professionals called throughout the case. One of the witnesses said A.J. may have tried to kill someone to create enough guilt that he would commit suicide. The boy had a history of neglect and suffered from depression. A.J. was sociopathic — lacking empathy — and one doctor said A.J.’s sociopathic tendencies were so severe, that person only had seen those behaviors exhibited by inmates on death row, Salazar said.
“It could have been anyone,” Salazar said, summarizing the testimony. He said others found A.J. to be sophisticated without learning disabilities.
Salazar said the acts were “cruel, calloused and calculated.”
According to Gonzalez's defense attorney, Larry Biggam, his client suffers from autism and attention-deficit disorder and "can be rehabilitated," NBC Bay Area reports.
“I am disappointed, but I am not surprised,” Biggam said. “I think the ruling reflects many people’s understandable anger about the crime." They will be appealing the ruling, Biggam said.
Maddy's family celebrated the verdict, with her mother telling the Sentinel that “We’re howling with delight...A.J. does not present like anyone they have ever seen. He’s a serial killer in the beginning."
Maddy's grandfather, Dan Middleton, was similarly relived. "The facts of this horrible crime could not ethically be viewed in any other way: Gonzalez has shown no remorse and has given no explanation for what he did and the experts have testified that he cannot be adequately reformed and poses a continuing threat to society."
“Despite his age at the time of Maddy’s tragic death, he has shown a level of criminal sophistication beyond his years and a frightening indifference to the suffering he has caused.”
Following the ruling, Gonzalez was transferred to Santa Cruz County Jail, where he will await trial with the adult inmates. His first hearing in the now-adult case is scheduled for November, with a trial date that has yet to be determined.
"I feel very bad for the jury who is going to have to look at all those awful photos of what he did to my daughter," Jordan told NBC Bay Area.
"We were spared the photos this time. We heard the details. The jury is going to have to see it all. And you can't un-see things."