Douglas County District Court Judge Peggy Kittel has declared a mistrial in the case against a 22-year-old Mission man accused of causing the 2012 death of a 27-year-old Lawrence man.
After deliberating for much of the second week of the trial, a jury could not reach a unanimous decision in assessing whether Justin P. Gonzalez was guilty of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the Feb. 25, 2012 death of Nicholas J. Sardina. Gonzalez was accused of causing Sardina’s death after allegedly striking him in the head with a beer bottle at a house party in the 1400 block of Kentucky Street. In December, Gonzalez pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter. A jury trial in the case began last week and continued into this week with up to two dozen in attendance to support Gonzalez while members of Sardina’s family were also on hand.
After meeting with jurors following the verdict, Gonzalez’s attorney, Sarah Swain, said the jury was split down the middle. The main question it had, she said, was whether Gonzalez’s use of a beer bottle to strike Sardina was reasonable or excessive force.
“Justin Gonzalez had a split second to react when Nicholas Sardina attacked his friend and he reacted by using the bottle in his hand,” Swain said. “We believe that was reasonable.”
Swain called half of the jury’s belief that Gonzalez acted in self-defense a “victory for us.”
Sardina, originally from Clarence, N.Y., was a sergeant in the Kansas National Guard and had served three tours in Iraq from 2006 to 2007 with the Army’s 1st Infantry Division based at Fort Riley.
Kittel ordered both sides to return for a status conference at 3:30 p.m. Dec. 19 during which the state will determine how it wishes to proceed in the case. Gonzalez will remain free on bond.