Facing life behind bars for charges related to the kidnapping, rape and murder of 8 year-old Tannery resident Madyson “Maddy” Middleton, 15-year-old A.J. Gonzalez pled not guilty to all charges in court on Sept. 21.
Maddy died of positional asphyxiation and stab wounds to the neck, according to the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office Coroner’s Unit. Gonzalez, who lived two flights above Maddy at the Tannery, is charged as an adult for the felonies. Gonzalez will reappear in court for his preliminary examination on Oct. 29.
After his short arraignment, Gonzalez’s attorney and public defender Leila Sayer addressed multiple news outlets and offered her condolences to Maddy’s family.
“This incident has resulted in the tragic loss of two kids from our community,” Sayer said. “As charged, our 15-year-old client now finds himself in adult court.”
Sayer said without the benefit of a fitness hearing — a hearing with a neutral judge who determines whether the defendant should be tried as a juvenile or adult — it’s “simply not right” to try Gonzalez as an adult. However, California state Proposition 21 requires more juvenile offenders to be tried in adult court, and youth 14 years or older charged with “committing certain types of murder or a serious sex offense generally would no longer be eligible for juvenile court and would have to be tried in adult court.”
District Attorney Jeff Rosell said the people made their wishes clear when they voted for the proposition in 2000.
“We have followed the law, and we have followed the will of the people of California,” Rosell said. “We have made appropriate decisions and appropriate charging decisions.”
Maddy’s grandfather, Bruce Jordan, said he and his wife were present for Gonzalez’s court appearance to “watch and witness justice for Madyson.” They stood among friends and family, holding signs with pictures of their only grandchild with the words “Sweet Angel” and “Remember Madyson.”
“She was a beautiful light in our life, and that light was put out,” Jordan said. “It’ll never be the same. What more can I say, except we’re crushed.”
Maddy’s father, Michael Middleton, waited outside the courtroom while Gonzalez made his plea. Middleton said he has forgiven the 15-year-old and that Maddy wouldn’t have wanted him to hold onto any anger or hatred toward the defendant. When reporters asked Middleton what he’d like the public to know about Maddy, he paused, fighting back tears.
“She was beautiful, loving — and she’s gone,” Middleton said. “At least I know she’ll always be that perfect little 8-year-old, and I miss her.”