SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KRON) — Six years ago, a homicide happened in Santa Cruz that still haunts veteran police detectives to this day.

It’s the murder of 8-year-old Madyson “Maddy” Middleton.

She was allegedly tortured, sexually assaulted, and strangled to death by her 15-year-old neighbor, Adrian “A.J.” Gonzalez.

Surveillance video captured Gonzalez on camera throwing Maddy’s body away in a dumpster at the Tannery Arts Complex, an apartment complex where artists live and work.

No trial in sight

Even though the crime happened half a dozen years ago, Gonzalez has yet to be put on trial because his age at the time of the crime placed him in legal limbo.

California’s criminal justice system keeps swinging back and forth over whether a juvenile should be put on trial as an adult.

If Gonzalez is granted a trial through the juvenile system, he will not spend much more time behind bars before he is released back into society.

A lengthy hearing happened in 2017. Then-Assistant District Attorney Rafael Vasquez said Maddy died a slow, “torturous” death at the hands of a sadistic young killer.

Defense attorney Larry Biggam conceded that his client did in fact carry out the crime, however, Biggam asserted that Gonzalez can be rehabilitated with proper resources.

At the hearing’s conclusion, a Santa Cruz County Superior Court judge ruled that Gonzalez was fit for adult proceedings. Timeline: Maddy Middleton murder investigation

Two years later, the State Senate passed SB-1391 — a law that bars children 15 or younger from being transferred to adult court.

Not long after SB-1391 became a new law, Santa Cruz judge John Salazar ruled that the new law was unconstitutional. Gonzalez’s defense attorneys appealed Salazar’s decision to the State Supreme Court.

If the Supreme Court agrees that SB-1391 is constitutional, Gonzalez would be sent back into the juvenile system.

“That decision should come down soon,” Gonzalez’s defense attorney, Larry Biggam, told KRON4.

“All of this is taking too long for everyone. It no doubt takes an emotional toll on the victim’s family and it has put Adrian in an adult (jail) with more sophisticated criminals with no treatment,” Biggam said.

Family fears he could be the next serial killer

Maddy’s grandfather, Dan Middleton, said he actually prefers for Gonzalez to remain in legal limbo, because that at least that will keep him behind bars and away from children.

One of Dan Middleton’s biggest fears is that Gonzalez will become the next Edmund Kemper.

Kemper, also known as “Big Ed” and “The Co-Ed Killer,” murdered his grandparents when he was a boy. After Kemper was released from jail, he became a serial killer. Kemper went on a murder and rape spree that included several UC Santa Cruz students, as well as his own mother.

Kemper eventually turned himself into police, and is now serving eight life sentences.

Dan Middleton said Gonzalez, like Kemper, is a sexual deviant.

“The scary that is going on right now is we don’t know where it is going to end. Looking at California right now, it may not go the way we thought it would go,” Dan Middleton told KRON4.

Ashes stolen

Maddy suffered an unthinkable death.

Ever after her death, another terrible crime happened against her.

Maddy’s father carried her ashes around with him inside his car.

Last year, a car thief broke in and stole the urn.

The green, ceramic urn is 3-and-a-half inches tall.

To this day, Maddy’s ashes have not been returned to her family.

Ex-Santa Cruz detective calls crime ‘gut-wrenching’

A now-retired Santa Cruz Police Department detective told KRON4 that this case was “gut-wrenching.”

Bruce Cline was a longtime homicide investigator for the Santa Cruz Police Department, but this case was one of the most emotionally challenging cases that he investigated during his career.

Former Santa Cruz Police Department homicide investigator Bruce Cline

“Somebody at that age is just so vulnerable,” Cline told KRON4.

“The luring, the sex assault, the homicide, and then the way that he disposed of her. My main role was interviewing potential witnesses. I’d rather just not ever say his name. That is how egregious this crime is,” Cline said.

“When we did find Maddy, that’s when my heart just sank,” Cline said. “All of ours’ did.”

Maddy Middleton

Remembering ‘Chatty Maddy’

Maddy loved wolves, her family, talking, art, eating carbohydrates, and dancing, family members said.

She also enjoyed riding her scooter, which surveillance cameras recorded her doing just moments before her life ended all-too-soon.

Above all, her grandfather said he remembers how much she loved to talk.

“We called her ‘Chatty Maddy,'” Dan Middleton said.

No matter what happens to Gonzalez, “nothing will bring her back,” Dan Middleton said.

He added,” “She would have been an interesting person, that is for sure.”