SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KRON) – The suspect in the murder of 8-year-old Maddy Middleton on Tuesday pleaded guilty to all charges, according to the Santa Cruz County District Attorney’s Office.
Adrian “A.J.” Gonzalez – who was 15-years-old at the time of the crime – pleaded guilty to charges including sexual assault, kidnapping, murder, rape, and child molestation.
Gonzalez, now 21, had been in juvenile court until he turned 18.
Due to SB-1391 – a law that bars children 15 or younger from being transferred to adult court – and a Supreme Court ruling that minors under the age of 16 can not be tried in adult criminal court, the case was sent back to juvenile court.
Gonzalez will be sentenced on April 27.
The DA confirms Gonzalez could be released from prison by the age of 25.
Defense attorney Larry Biggam released the following statement to KRON4 in response:
“The issue in this case has always been this: will Adrian receive treatment and rehabilitation services in an age-appropriate facility or receive pure punishment in an adult prison. The Supreme Court recently resolved that issue when, in a 7-0 decision, they upheld SB1391 which bans the transfer of 14 and 15-year-old kids to adult courts. It is, in my view, good public policy and promotes public safety. Kids tried and punished in adult courts re-offend sooner, more often, and for more serious crimes than those kept in the juvenile justice system. A meaningful opportunity for reform requires a correctional setting which treats and does not further traumatize its occupants. Although no correctional institutional is perfect, Adrian will have a better chance at growth, change, and maturation at the Department of Juvenile Justice compared to San Quentin or Soledad. “LARRY BIGGAM
Middleton was last seen riding her scooter around the Tannery Arts Complex, not far from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, on July 26, 2015.
Her body was found the next night, stuffed in a recycling bin that was stored inside an enclosed parking garage downstairs from the suspect’s apartment.
Gonzalez, who was standing nearby when a detective discovered Middleton’s body, lured the girl into his apartment Sunday evening and killed her, according to Santa Cruz’s police chief at the time, Kevin Vogel.
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.
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.
Two years later, the State Senate passed SB-1391.
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, which ultimately ruled minors under age 16 cannot be tried in adult criminal court.