Prosecutors are still reviewing whether a teen acted in self-defense when he allegedly stabbed a Kennewick man to death during a Christmas Eve street fight.
Possible murder charges against Angel Gonzalez have been pending as prosecutors review the circumstances of Gerardo Villamar Jr.'s death.
Prosecutors are having trouble piecing together what happened the night Villamar, 23, and his three cousins fought with Gonzalez, 17, near the intersection of East Second Avenue near downtown Kennewick.
Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller said the case has been difficult because of inconsistent statements, uncooperative witnesses and a determination by police that Gonzalez did not provoke the fight.
"The Kennewick police turned over their investigation to our office without a recommendation or request that charges be filed against Mr. Gonzalez," Miller told the Herald. "Our office has been reluctant to make a final decision as we do not believe that we have a complete, truthful understanding of happened that sad evening."
The Villamar family is upset that no charges have been filed and asked prosecutors not to contact them unless charges are filed, prosecutors and family members said.
"It is still hurtful for our family to know the person that killed him is free and no justice has been made," said Angelica Ortiz, Villamar's aunt.
It's unclear what started the fight.
Police and prosecutors say Gonzalez was walking by himself when the four men got out of a car and assaulted him with at least one baseball bat, possibly more.
Villamar's cousins told investigators they stopped to talk to Gonzalez because he was "eyeballing" one of them, court documents said.
Villamar was stabbed in his upper back during the fight and died a short time later at Trios Health. His cousins, Erick J. Nieto and Jose A. Vazquez-Villanueva, also were stabbed and suffered nonlife-threatening injuries.
All three of Villamar's relatives were arrested for rioting.
The cousins have refused to cooperate with investigators and have given conflicting accounts of what happened, Miller said. A Kennewick police investigation determined the men started the fight with Gonzalez.
"One of the three invoked his rights and refused to speak to police. One gave multiple statements that night, then gave inconsistent statements to police at a later time," Miller said. "The third told police that he had already spoken to someone even though there is no record of that and then told police he had nothing to say."
Further complicating the investigation are the conflicting statements Gonzalez has given to investigators since his arrest, Miller said.
Gonzalez ran from the scene of the fight and later went to California, officials said. Two months later, he turned himself in to police.
Gonzalez told relatives the night of the fight that he stabbed people, court documents said. He said he feared for his safety because he was attacked with baseball bats.
Police found two bloody knives. One was a hunting-style knife and the other had a long, curved blade.
Investigators questioned the creditability of Gonzalez's original statement, and the teen later changed his story when interviewed, Miller said.
"It has been difficult to fully corroborate Mr. Gonzalez's statement, partly because of the time lapse between the incident and his statement to the police," Miller said. "There appears to be some inconsistencies between Mr. Gonzalez's statement and the statements of his family members."
Scott Johnson, a lawyer representing Gonzalez, told the Herald that it's clear his client was defending himself when he was jumped by Villamar and his cousins.
The length of time it has taken prosecutors to review the case is not unusual because there is a legitimate claim of self-defense, Johnson said.
"It is an awfully tragic thing from everything I know about the case," Johnson said. "(Villamar) put himself in a position to harm my client. (Gonzalez) was walking home by himself. I would be very, very surprised if they decided to charge him."
Gonzalez was initially jailed on suspicion of second-degree murder. Prosecutors released him while they reviewed the case.
Gonzalez was then moved from the Benton County jail to the Juvenile Detention Center in Kennewick on unrelated charges. His juvenile cases have been resolved and he is out of custody.
-- Tyler Richardson: 582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter; @Ty_richardson