Standing next to his lawyers in a Santa Cruz courtroom early Tuesday morning, Adrian Jerry “AJ” Gonzalez pleaded not guilty to murder in the violent death of Madyson “Maddy” Middleton last July, as the little girl’s family stood outside holding photos of her.
Gonzalez, who showed up for arraignment in the courtroom of Judge Timothy Volkmann, was given a Feb. 21 trial date.
Gonzalez was 15 years old last July, when 8-year-old Madyson’s body was found in a recycling bin at the Tannery Arts Center in Santa Cruz , but will be tried as an adult with murder, rape and other sexual assault-related offenses. Court records show Madyson had been raped, beaten and dumped in the bin.
If he's found guilty of all counts, Gonzalez faces a maximum of life in prison.
Gonzalez waived a formal reading of the criminal information, entered a not guilty plea to each charge and denied all special allegations, Santa Cruz District Attorney Jeffrey Rosell said.
When asked how difficult it is to go after a 16-year-old in a case like this, Rosell said: “The things that took place in this case are absolutely horrible, we filed appropriate charges and it is what public safety demands, and it is what we are tasked to do, and it is what we will do."
As for how confident he is of winning, he said: “This is a strong case, and we are confident in our ability to prove every single thing we have charged.”
Gonzalez also waived his right to a speedy trial, simply responding with a “yes” to the judge. The court scheduled a trial readiness date of Feb. 8 before the trial.
Sitting quietly next to his lawyers, Larry Biggam and Leila Sayer, in a green shirt and khaki pants, Gonzalez’s face was devoid of any emotion.
“Our client is in effect facing life without possibility of parole and hence we have a duty to carefully examine and crosscheck all the evidence, including forensic evidence, voluminous police reports, and gigabytes of data from computers and cell phones,” Biggam told reporters outside the courthouse. “In addition, in such a serious case involving juveniles where there’s been a direct file to adult court, we have a direct responsibility to investigate the minor’s family, educational, psychological and social history … And that takes a lot of time.”
Biggam refused to discuss his strategy for defending his client at this point.
Outside the courtroom on Ocean Street, Madyson’s dad, Michael Middleton, wearing a Hershey's orange “Reese’s” t-shirt, held up a photo of his daughter, once again stressing, just like in previous public appearances, that the attention should remain on his daughter, who would have been a third grader this schoolyear.
“Always Remember Madyson,” read a caption on a photo of Maddy smiling.
Middleton, who didn’t go inside the courtroom, said that he didn’t want the day to be about Gonzalez, he wanted it to be about Madyson: “I just want Maddy’s face out here and remember what this is really about.”
Middleton said that he has received lot of support from the community and is doing “all right.”
“This is to be expected, I’m not surprised, I know it’s going to be a long haul … Just gotta go with the flow,” Middleton said of the trial date. As for the outcome of the case, he said: “It’s pretty obvious what happened here … It’s not a question of what was done or not done, it’s more of a technicality.”
“What about Adrian Gonzalez?” one reporter asked.
“He’s going to have to face his own demons,” Middleton replied. “It’s not up to me.”