Teen murder suspect moved from jail to juvenile center; charges not filed yet

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 24, 2014 

Gonzalez Court Appearance

Angel Gonzalez, 17, appears in February 20, 2014 in Benton County Superior Court.

BOB BRAWDY — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

The suspect in the Christmas Eve fatal stabbing of Gerardo Villamar Jr. has been released from the Benton County jail while investigators look into his self-defense claims.

However, Angel Gonzalez, 17, remains locked up in the Juvenile Detention Center on unrelated cases, including a probation violation.

Prosecutors opted Friday to release the Kennewick teen from his 72-hour-hold for second-degree murder while not filing charges at this time.

"We just want time to review all the reports and all the witness statements ...," Prosecutor Andy Miller told the Herald. "This is pretty much the way we handle all cases when there is a legitimate issue of self-defense. We don't want to rush into any charges."

Gonzalez turned himself in to police late Wednesday following a long phone conversation. Officers, acting on a tip, searched his family home earlier that night and took three people in for questioning.

Though Gonzalez is a minor, he was held with adult inmates because an investigative hold or charge for murder is automatically bumped up to Superior Court if the suspect is 17.

Once he was let go on that case, Gonzalez was moved down the road to address his two juvenile warrants.

He was charged in September with possession of a dangerous weapon, second-degree criminal trespass and possession of marijuana or marijuana-infused products while under age 21. A separate case, filed in January, is for resisting arrest and second-degree criminal trespass.

All of the alleged crimes are misdemeanors.

Gonzalez appeared Monday in Juvenile Court with attorney Scott Johnson. The judge set bail at $1,000 on one case, and released Gonzalez on his personal recognizance on the other.

However, Johnson said his client will not be getting out on bond. It's better for Gonzalez to stay in juvenile lockup for now since his hearing is next Monday to address the violation on an older fourth-degree assault case, he said.

"I think working with the prosecutors, we'll be able to resolve those pretty quick," Johnson told the Herald.

In the first case, a school resource officer patrolling Keewaydin Park on Aug. 29 saw several boys in the gazebo, including Gonzalez, who was smoking a cigarette. Gonzalez, 16 at the time, previously was ordered to stay out of all Kennewick parks.

Gonzalez had a clear baggie with marijuana, a smoking device and a drawstring bag which held a metal asp, or baton, wrapped in a blue bandana, court records said.

Dispatch had alerted the officer that on prior contacts, Gonzalez has had brass knuckles and weapons and has been with documented gang members, records said.

Then on Nov. 22, police got word of a boy in Keewaydin Park trying to sell stolen electronics.

A teen said he was talking to the seller when Gonzalez came up, said he knew someone who would buy the goods, left with the items and never returned, court documents said. Police were warned that Gonzalez may not want to talk to them since he had a warrant.

An officer and a detective went to Gonzalez's home to follow up and arrest him on the warrant. They saw a man who matched Gonzalez's description sitting on the couch, but he got up and walked toward the back of the house as they knocked on the front door.

Gonzalez climbed up through a closet into the attic, allegedly to avoid capture. He ignored repeated calls over 20 minutes to come down, and eventually a Kennewick Fire Department ladder was used so an officer could reach the teenager, documents said.

Gonzalez denied being in the city park that day.

On Dec. 24 just before midnight, Gonzalez got into a street fight with Villamar and three other men when he reportedly stared at the victim's cousin in passing. Gonzalez stabbed Villamar and Erick Nieto, both 23, and Rafael Nieto-Villamar, 24. Villamar died at the hospital, and the other two suffered injuries that were nonlife-threatening.

Gonzalez told his parents and brothers that night about stabbing people, saying he feared for his safety and ran because the assailants were attacking him with baseball bats, court documents said.

Villamar's relatives had a different version of events, telling investigators that the three left a Christmas party and stopped to talk to Gonzalez because he was "eyeballing" Nieto-Villamar, documents said. Gonzalez allegedly punched Nieto, stabbed him, and then went after Villamar and Nieto-Villamar as they tried to help Nieto.

Becky Ochoa, a family friend and the employer of Gerardo Villamar Sr. and Jr., wrote an email to the Herald expressing outrage that Gonzalez has been set free on this case and disappointment in the Kennewick Police Department and the Benton County Prosecutor's Office.

She said the victim's father first suffered a broken heart to learn his son had died, and then was told that prosecutors for now wouldn't be charging the alleged killer.

"This kid is walking the streets with two assault weapons in his pocket and you're telling us he wasn't ready to hurt someone?" she wrote.

Ochoa believes there is gang-related crime in the community because the system does not make an example out of criminals who are involved in such activity, she said. She also worries about retaliation and possibly more violence on the streets.

"(Gonzalez) gets to go home in a couple of days, join his family, have dinner, talk and laugh, and meanwhile Gerardo Sr. gets to go home every night and relive the fact his son is dead," she said. "That (Villamar Jr.) was killed by someone who admitted to the crime and was let go with a smack on the wrist. Where is the justice in any of that?"

However, Johnson said police have not identified his client as a gang associate or member. Gonzalez wasn't out looking for trouble, yet he was beat up really bad by the others near his own home, the lawyer said.

"From everything that I've been able to learn, it looks like a really strong self-defense claim. The state needs to continue with their investigation, but it looks like it really, absolutely was self defense," Johnson said. "We've been cooperative with the prosecutor's office and are trying to make sure they have all the information that they need to come to the right decision on this one."

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer

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