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Maddy Middleton’s Killer Sentenced; Could Walk Free in Four Years

Maddy’s father says killer should have faced life in prison

Romeo Medina (from left), his sister, Amari lynn, and brother, Michael, came to the steps of the Santa Cruz Superior Court on Tuesday, April 27, 2021, to show support for Madyson "Maddy" Middleton during the sentencing of her killer, AJ Gonzalez. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

The man who was 15 when he kidnapped, raped and murdered 8-year-old Madyson “Maddy” Middleton and then dumped her body in a recycling bin was sentenced Tuesday to juvenile prison until he turns 25 in October 2024.

Adrian “A.J.” Gonzalez, now 21, must also register for life as a sex offender, Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge John Salazar ruled. He added that Senate Bill 1391, which prohibits juveniles from being prosecuted as adults, limited the penalties that could be imposed.

“There is no way for anyone to understand the profound and absolute pain and grief a family experiences when losing a child under these circumstances,” Salazar said. 

Gonzalez pleaded guilty on April 15 to murder and numerous sex offenses and other charges. If convicted as an adult, he would have faced life in prison. 

Before the sentencing, Gonzalez offered an apology, saying he hopes to one day earn the forgiveness of Maddy’s family.

“I understand there is very little I can say after all the pain and suffering I have caused,” he said. “My goal is to work on my issues so no one else has to experience what you have endured.

“I am aware that does not change the fact that I have brought you tragedy, loss and devastation. I am hopeful that, when I take the time to apologize, that you may accept my apologies for the actions that I have done and what they have brought you.”

Maddy’s father Michael Middleton said he has accepted her loss, and that he has forgiven Gonzalez. 

“That does not make anything easier, it just allows me peace,” he said. “The alternative could be to hold to the darkness, but this would only consume my soul. I refuse to poison my soul and existence. Forgiveness is the only path, and I believe that Madyson would agree.”

But Middleton said that attitude should not be taken as a desire for leniency, saying that Gonzalez should have faced life in prison.

“Adrian Gonzalez should never have the opportunity to repeat these crimes again,” he said. 

Middleton said he doubts that rehabilitation is a possibility, considering Gonzalez’s crimes.

“A crime of this nature should not be swept under the rug, based on individuals who feel this can be remedied by rehabilitation,” he said. “I do not see this scenario as possible based on the severity and sophistication of the acts that were committed.

Maddy’s mother Laura Jordan described her daughter as “the light and love of my life.” 

“(She was) the best thing I ever made,” Jordan said during an emotional, tearful statement. “She was growing up beautifully, bright, perky, fun and generous of heart.”

Jordan said that Madyson’s death left her suffering depression, anxiety, and PTSD that impacted every aspect of her life and made her unable to work.

“You stole my joy, my ability to laugh through grief, leaving me with utter and complete hopelessness,” she said. “A.J., I’ve been hollowed out by your cruel, brutal, unconscionable acts, left empty and aching for my beautiful child Madyson Jordan Middleton.”

Before the hearing, about 30 people gathered outside the courtroom to protest SB 1391. Many of those people later huddled around cell phones to listen to the livestreamed hearing. 

Scotts Valley resident Linda Johnson, a mother of two adult daughters, said she came to show her support to Maddy’s family.

“It’s my personal opinion that a child of 15 that plans such a heinous crime cannot be rehabilitated,” she said. “I don’t see that happening. He planned every detail.”

She said that life without the possibility of parole would have been the appropriate punishment. “I think he’s a predator, and no child is safe around him.”

Dan Middleton, Maddy’s grandfather, said that the sentencing ignores all the evidence showing that Gonzalez is a danger to society. He also predicts that SB 1391 will have dire consequences for future cases.

“I’m very disappointed in the way things are falling out,” he said. “What we’re doing here is waking people up about what will happen down the line.”

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