Victim: Madyson “Maddy” Middleton, eight
Murderer’s age: 15
Death: July 26, 2015, Santa Cruz, California
Eight-year-old Maddy was raped and murdered by a 15-year-old male. Because of SB 1391, her killer could not be tried in adult court, as he was under 16 when he committed the horrific crimes. Instead, the murderer will be incarcerated in a juvenile detention center until his 25th birthday.
SANTA CRUZ — Laura Jordan, whose 8-year-old daughter was killed in Santa Cruz more than three years ago, said she believes her daughter’s suspected killer deserves solitary confinement for the rest of his life.
She is concerned whether or not a Santa Cruz County Superior Court judge — the same judge who put defendant Adrian “A.J.” Gonzalez’s case in adult court in October 2017 — will favor a new law that bans 14 and 15 year old offenders from the adult criminal justice system in California.
Superior Court Judge John Salazar on Thursday morning has the opportunity to determine whether the new law is unconstitutional — a claim made by the District Attorney’s Office in recent briefs. Salazar could delay proceedings until an appellate court’s ruling becomes binding after it deemed Senate Bill 1391 — which prohibits 14 and 15 year olds from facing adult proceedings in California — constitutional.
For Jordan, the uncertainty of the case made for a troubling Mother’s Day, the third since the homicide. Her 8-year-old daughter Madyson Middleton kept breathing after she was choked and stabbed in the neck three times. She was placed in garbage bags and folded, hauled down stairs at the Tannery Arts Center, where she and her accused killer lived, and put in a dumpster, according to testimony in the lingering case.
Wards in the juvenile system have access to a buffet of services intended to make them fit for life on the outside by their mid-20s. As an adult, if convicted, Gonzalez, now 19, would face the possibility of life in prison. His charges include murder.
“There’s no possible way he could be rehabilitated,” Jordan said of Gonzalez. “I do believe in giving young people, even adults, who make mistakes lots of rehabilitation — but on a case-by-case basis. One size does not fit all. He needs to be in solitary confinement for the rest of his life.”
Jordan still lives at the Tannery. Gonzalez was her neighbor. His mother — and many people in Santa Cruz — ushered constant condolences for her loss for weeks after the killing that shocked the city.
“It’s like we both lost our kids,” Jordan said.
Senate Bill 1391 has been deemed constitutional only at the appellate level in a case that originated in Solano County. Multiple county courts have ruled both ways; a few consider the law unconstitutional.
“This is a ridiculous law,” Jordan said of the retroactive SB 1391. “All the gangs are going to have 14 and 15 year olds killing people.”
Three years and nine months of proceedings have dragged her family through more trauma that the travails of a criminal trial, Jordan said.
Jordan’s father, Bruce Jordan of Sacramento, drove to most hearings in the case but no longer can do so. Brain cancer has left him with a short life expectancy.
“It’s just so tragic that my father might not live to see justice for Madyson,” Laura Jordan said.
Bruce Jordan was active in corresponding with the Sentinel regarding the constantly changing case. Gonzalez was “direct-filed” by the District Attorney’s Office to face trial in adult courts. A separate state law — Proposition 57 — was passed by California voters in November 2016 to eradicate the direct-file authority of prosecutors.
The case went to juvenile courts for the first time. Salazar ruled after the nine-week transfer hearing in October 2017 that Gonzalez warranted adult proceedings.
Then came SB 1391, which took effect in January.
At the transfer hearing, an official testified that Gonzalez had admitted his actions to authorities shortly after the child’s body was found; Gonzalez was arrested seconds after as he was feigning help in the search that made national headlines.
“I don’t get it. It’s turned into a legal battle,” Jordan said. “Once he was caught and confessed, we thought it was a done deal. We can rest. Maddy can rest. But now, there’s such uncertainty and fear.”
The defense, led by Chief Public Defender Larry Biggam and Ted Fairbanks, contend that Gonzalez was the product of a troubled childhood. They have said he excelled at Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall, which provided a slate of services and psychotherapy.
Biggam has said Gonzalez is amenable to rehabilitation in the juvenile system. District Attorney Jeff Rosell has argued that Gonzalez is unfit to be released at any age after an act considered cold and calculated.
“I can’t wrap my head around the fact that people who are arguing about this are so far removed from the situation,” Jordan said. “It didn’t just happen to me. It happened to all of us at the Tannery.”