Jury finds Vallejo gang member guilty of first degree murder in 2015 – The Reporter
Ending a nearly 6-year-old murder case and after less than a full day of deliberation, a Solano County Superior Court jury on Wednesday found a member of a criminal street gang in Vallejo guilty of first degree murder in 2015.
Jose Alberto Gonzalez, 23, a confirmed member of the Brown Brotherhood, showed no noticeable emotion when the Department 15 court clerk read the charge and the jury’s verdict.
The 12-member panel also held true allegations that Gonzalez – who was one of two gang members who shot and killed James Souza, 46, on August 13 on train tracks near the Sacramento Street crossing. and Yolo Avenue in Vallejo – used a handgun to commit the crime and committed it for the benefit of the gang, a subset of the Surenos.
Judge Robert Bowers then questioned each of the jurors, masked and socially distanced in the jury seats and podium, about their verdict. He also thanked them for honoring a jury summons during the pandemic.
After jurors left the courtroom at the Vallejo courthouse, Bowers spoke with lawyers to set the time and date for the conviction, which will include a review of a presentation report, at 9 a.m. on July 13.
Gonzalez, who again wore a purple shirt and tie, his jet black hair pulled back into a braided ponytail, rose from the defense table to be escorted by sheriff’s ushers to the County Jail in Solano.
In a text message to The Reporter, Assistant District Attorney Julie Underwood, who pursued the case for six full hearing days over a two-week period, was “delighted with the verdict.”
“This verdict does justice to James Souza and his family and I couldn’t be happier,” she added.
Jurors, she said, “arrived at this verdict based on the evidence and the law. All the evidence indicated that Jose Gonzalez was among the gang members who shot and killed “Souza, a former member of the Nortenos, a rival gang of the Surenos, for wearing a red belt, a Norteno gang color, and a small Norteno tattoo. on his hand.
Gonzalez’s defense attorney David Nelson said he would “go back to see if there were any motions before sentencing” but did not indicate whether he would appeal the verdict.
In sentencing, Gonzalez, who was a teenager when he killed Souza, risks 25 years for the murder, and almost certainly more time for improvements.
During his rebuttal remarks last Friday, which followed Nelson’s final argument, Underwood said there was “overwhelming evidence” that Gonzalez was one of two people who injected 10 bullets from the gun. fist into Souza’s body, then fled the territory of the gangs, the tracks under the tracks crossing. , leaving Souza to die.
Speaking to the 12 jurors and two deputies in Judge Robert Bowers’ courtroom, Underwood also noted that six days later, on August 19, Vallejo Constable Ryan McLaughlin spotted Gonzalez on a city street, noticed what appeared to be a handgun in his belt. , and gave chase. As he ran, the accused threw down the pistol, considered to be the murder weapon, and Underwood told the juror his actions were a sign of “conscience of guilt.”
Additionally, in an effort to slam the door on Nelson’s claim that another gang member, not Gonzalez, killed Souza, Underwood reminded jurors of Gonzalez’s text messages on his cell phone to his sister.
“He knew the police were looking for him,” Underwood said, adding that another message seemed to indicate that Gonzalez did not want to go back to the gang zone, because “the boys are there”. the police.
She also refuted Nelson’s claim that the prosecution rested its case on the testimony of an accomplice witness to the crime, former gang member Audel Gomez, 21.
“He’s the only person who has testified to seeing James Souza shot and killed,” Underwood said of Gomez, who will ultimately be convicted of aiding and abetting.
She also reminded jurors that a ballistic examination indicated that some of the bullets extracted from Souza during the autopsy matched the handgun that Gonzalez threw to the ground on August 19 (after his arrest, Gonzalez was incarcerated in Solano County Jail, on bail set at $ 5 million. He pleaded not guilty to first degree murder, firearms and gang-related charges. In May 2018, a judge from the Solano County Superior Court ruled that the Gonzalez case would be transferred from juvenile court to adult court.)
The people’s case comes down to whether jurors believed Gomez’s testimony, which included statements that he saw Gomez and another gang member, Marcos Gutierrez Casas, shoot the bullets at Souza’s body. (After being questioned by police investigators, Casas was not charged and reportedly fled to Mexico, where he has relatives.)
At the start of his argument, Underwood said, “No one should die like James Souza”, that he was “riddled with bullets, bleeding” near a railroad overpass, “his face in the gravel” for hours. , with insects covering and eating his body by the time he was found by a homeless woman the next morning.
“James Souza was someone,” she told jurors. “He was loved… he was a human being.”
And he was killed “For what?” asked Underwood, alluding to the red belt and a small tattoo on his wrist that indicated he was once a Norteno (but later suffered from schizophrenia and was asked to leave the gang).
The accused had no remorse, she claimed, adding that Gomez testified that Gonzalez laughed after the shooting, Gonzalez saying, “I just merked a buster,” street slang meaning he shot and killed someone believed to be a member of a rival gang.
At one point, Underwood called the shooting “first degree murder” and “clear case of first degree murder”.