SANTA CRUZ, Calif. - Adrian "A.J." Gonzalez, accused of sexually assaulting and killing his neighbor, 8-year-old Madyson "Maddy" Middleton, will be tried as an adult, a judge has ruled.
Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge John Salazar announced his decision Tuesday in a courtroom filled with Middleton's family, police detectives, social workers and others following the case.
Gonzalez, who turned 18 Friday, was arrested in 2015 after Maddy's body was found in a recycling bin at the Tannery Arts Complex in Santa Cruz.
The trial was supposed to begin in February, but Proposition 57 passed in November, which required a transfer hearing for juvenile offenders before they can be charged as adults.
Gonzalez had his hands in prayer position the entire time as the judge read his rationale, drawing from two months of testimony.
Salazar said he had considered a variety of factors, including Gonzalez's traumatic childhood, prior criminal history, which the teen didn't have, the sophistication of the crime Gonzalez is accused of committing, and his effort to cover his tracks.
Salazar concluded that five years in juvenile hall will not be sufficient to rehabilitate Gonzalez.
"The defense has conceded these to be the offenses of the most heinous crime. Mr. (Larry) Biggam (Gonzalez's public defender) needed to reflect on the mass murders of the '70s and the '80s to find any case remotely as shocking. While the minor has certainly been shaped by his neglectful and abusive childhood, he committed these offenses by his own volition," Salazar said.
While Gonzalez eventually confessed to detectives and claimed he was remorseful, Salazar said "his action and behavior clearly indicated otherwise."
Maddy's death shook her family and Salazar saw the impact.
“In 26 years on the bench, I have not read of nor felt such heart wrenching grief as that expressed in the letters written by Madyson’s family."
After leaving the courtroom, the girl's family rushed into embraces.
"I just don't want him on the streets where he can hurt any more little girls because it destroys people. It destroys families," Maddy's grandmother Lisa Jordan said tearfully, "I play through what she went through in her long agonizing horrible death at his hands and it's just so painful."
Maddy's mother, Laura Jordan, took comfort in the fact that the judge took experts' opinions into consideration.
"He's a serial killer just beginning. He took my daughter as his first kill," Jordan said.
Gonzalez did not have much exchange with his lawyer, but he did tell Biggam he wanted to be transferred to Santa Cruz County jail instead of being in isolation in juvenile hall.
Biggam said he plans to appeal the judge's decision.
The teen's bail is set at $5 million, and if convicted, Gonzalez could face life in prison.