The man who was 15 when he kidnapped, raped and murdered 8-year-old Madyson “Maddy” Middleton in 2015 pleaded guilty to the charges on Tuesday, setting the stage for a sentencing that could see him released by the time he is 25.
That is because Adrian “A.J.” Gonzalez, now 21, is considered a minor under Senate Bill 1391, a law that prohibits people under the age of 16 from being tried as an adult.
Gonzalez’s plea came just after his case was transferred to juvenile court. If tried as an adult, he faced life in prison without the possibility of parole.
His attorney, Santa Cruz County Public Defender Larry Biggam, could not be reached for comment. But he told this newspaper in February—when the California Supreme Court ruled that SB 1391 is constitutional—that juveniles who commit sex crimes and get treatment are less likely to commit future crimes than those sent to adult prisons, since their brains are still developing.
But Santa Cruz County District Attorney Jeff Rosell says that the gruesome nature of the crime—that he lured Maddy to his apartment with ice cream, attacked her from behind, bound her with duct tape and choked her into unconsciousness before raping her and then stabbing her in the neck when he realized she wan’t dead yet—makes it unlikely that will happen.
Gonzalez also cleaned the murder weapons with hydrogen peroxide and then calmly interacted with people who were looking for Maddy, Rosell said.
“I don’t think that is somebody who is going to be rehabilitated and safely released on the streets at the age of 25,” he said.
Rosell also says that the possibility that Gonzalez could be released at 25 is real, since almost nobody in the juvenile system has their sentences extended beyond that age.
Gonzalez has been in custody on $5 million bail for 27 charges that include first-degree murder, kidnapping and numerous sex offenses.
He is accused of luring Maddy into his apartment in the Tannery Arts Complex with the promise of ice cream on July 26, 2015. There, prosecutors say he strangled, raped and stabbed the girl before concealing her body in a recycling bin.
Gonzalez returns to court on April 27 at 1:30pm. To watch the event live, visit santacruzcourt.org/content/remote-appearance.