Santa Cruz Teen Pleads Not Guilty in Maddy Middleton Murder

15-year-old Adrian Jerry "AJ" Gonzalez is charged as an adult with murder, rape, and other sexual assault-related offenses

The Northern California 15-year-old charged with kidnapping, sexually assaulting and raping an 8-year-old girl pleaded not guilty on Monday, as the little girl's family and friends held a rally outside the court.

Adrian Jerry "AJ" Gonzalez, of Santa Cruz, entered his plea stemming from the death of Madyson "Maddy" Middleton in the courtroom of Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Timony Volkmann. He sat quietly between two attorneys, wearing the green shirt and khaki pants issued to minors.

Maddy lived in the same apartment complex as Gonzalez. Her body was found July 28 in a recycling bin at the Tannery Arts Center. She had been raped, beaten and dumped in the bin, court records show.

Gonzalez's attorney said Monday he wanted to ensure that the teen receives a fair trial.

Outside court, Maddy's circle of supporters wanted the attention to remain on the would-be third grader, not on the teen who is accused of killing her.

Her grandfather, Bruce Jordan, remembered Maddy is such a "delight" and a "bright little light."

Her father explained the reason for the rally. "We want to keep some of the focus on her," Michael Middleton said. "I think that Madyson would want it to be this way. She'd want me not to have hatred and anger. Hopefully people will find love, compassion and forgiveness in all this."

Gonzalez is represented by public defender Larry Biggam, who told reporters at the teen's first court appearance that his job is to "review the evidence, conduct our own investigation and make sure that the minor, like every citizen accused, receives a fair trial." Gonzalez is also being represented by Leila Sayer of Biggam, Christensen and Minsloff.

Gonzalez was ordered to re-appear in court on Oct. 29.

In July, Santa Cruz County District Attorney Jeffrey Rosell formally charged the teen as an adult with murder, rape, and other sexual assault-related offenses.

If he's found guilty of all counts, Gonzalez faces a maximum of life in prison.

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