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January 17, 2021

State Supreme Court to decide on juvenile justice law

Man who murdered 8-year-old girl could walk free at 25

SAN FRANCISCO—The family of an 8-year-old girl who was allegedly raped, tortured and murdered by a 15-year-old suspect is urging the California Supreme court to overturn a law that could allow him to walk free when he is 25.

A.J. Gonzalez, now 21, is facing numerous felony charges for the death of Madyson “Maddy” Middleton, and for concealing her body in a recycling bin. He has been held on $5 million bail in Santa Cruz County Jail since October 2017.

A Santa Cruz County Superior Court judge ruled in October 2017 that Gonzalez would be tried as an adult. But the case has stalled as state lawmakers decide on the constitutionality of Senate Bill 1391, which prohibits prosecution in adult court of 14- and 15-year-old suspects in most cases.

The law was signed on Sept. 30, 2018 by then Gov. Jerry Brown. Authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara, it was seen as criminal justice reform meant to temper California’s tough-on-crime philosophy, and allowed courts to focus on rehabilitation for young offenders.

The law amended voter-approved Proposition 57, which allows a judge to decide whether young suspects are tried in adult or juvenile court.

But it also gained infamy among criminal justice advocates, who said it left no leeway for keeping dangerous suspects in adult court.

Several district attorneys have filed amicus briefs on the law, calling it unconstitutional. On Tuesday, the State Supreme Court began hearing O.G. v. Superior Court of Ventura County.

Maddy’s family in a letter to the media says that Gonzalez “planned to kidnap, sexually assault, torture and ultimately kill an 8 year old child.”

“We cannot believe that the individual who planned to kidnap, rape and murder our Maddy could soon be walking out of jail because State Senator Holly Mitchell and Ricardo Lara chose a one-size-fits-all approach to juvenile justice,” the letter states. “This is wrong and lets an intentional, vicious murderer walk free.”


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