SANTA CRUZ — A Santa Cruz man who was 15 when he allegedly raped and killed an 8-year-old girl four years ago – and is facing life in prison for the crime – could instead be sent to a sex offender treatment program after his lawyers on Thursday argued that a new state law requires him to be treated as a juvenile.
Santa Cruz County District Attorney Jeff Rosell argued that law – SB 1391 – is unconstitutional, and asked Superior Court Judge Steven Siegel instead to base his ruling on a state proposition that gives judges discretion when trying juveniles.
Adrian Gonzalez, now 18, has been in custody in Santa Cruz County Jail since October 2017, when he was transferred from Juvenile Hall.
He is being held on $5 million bail for 27 charges that include first-degree murder, kidnapping and numerous sex offenses for the death of Madyson “Maddy” Middleton. He faces life in prison if convicted as an adult.
Public defenders Larry Biggam and Ted Fairbanks said that SB 1391, which was signed to law in 2018, prohibits anyone 14 or 15 years old from being prosecuted as an adult.
But Rosell said that law circumvents voter-approved Proposition 57, and is therefore unconstitutional. Prop. 57, which passed in 2016, requires a judge to determine whether juveniles are tried as adults.
In a rare move for a prosecutor, Rosell asked Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Steven Siegel to declare SB 1391 unconstitutional, and instead use Prop 57 to keep Gonzalez in the adult justice system.
The blanket prohibition against trying juveniles as adults is a one-size-fits-all approach that does not fit in the case of Gonzalez, who Rosell said is a danger to society.
“It defies common sense,” he said.
Prosecutors say that Gonzalez lured Maddy into his upstairs apartment in the Tannery Arts Complex with the promise of ice cream on July 26, 2015.
He then reportedly strangled the girl until he believed she was dead, raped her and then placed her body into two garbage bags, and then put the bags into a garbage can, prosecutors say.
But Maddy was not dead, and when Gonzalez heard her crying he used a kitchen knife to stab her twice in the neck, prosecutors say.
After that, Gonzalez dumped Maddy’s body in a recycling bin.
Fairbanks said that SB 1391 was created to keep juveniles out of the adult justice system, regardless of the seriousness of the crime.
Fairbanks pointed to new scientific research that shows juvenile brains do not fully develop until age 25, meaning that they are far more likely to benefit from intensive treatment.
“Adult justice seeks to punish people who do wrong, and to keep them out of society,” he said. “The juvenile system seeks to treat and rehabilitate people who do wrong so they can rejoin society.”
The law further provides that, if the juveniles are still deemed dangerous after treatment, they can be held indefinitely, Fairbanks said.
Laws passed by the state legislature are presumed constitutional, Fairbanks said, adding that the California Attorney General has signaled his support of SB 1329.
Siegel said he will make a written ruling in two weeks.
Rosell said that, no matter what the judge rules, the matter will almost certainly wind its way to appellate courts, and, possibly, as far as the U.S. Supreme Court.
The first step in that process could start with Siegel, Rosell said.
Rosell said it was the first time in his 24-year career that he has asked a judge to declare an existing law unconstitutional.
“I understand that it is a difficult decision for a judge sitting in a superior court like this to rule on the constitutionality of a piece of legislation,” he said.
Editor's note: This article will publish in the May 3 edition of the Register-Pajaronian.