Archive for Thursday, December 12, 2013

Judge declares mistrial in 2012 manslaughter case

December 12, 2013, 11:43 a.m. Updated December 12, 2013, 2:14 p.m.


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.


Kirsten Gleason 4 years, 4 months ago

This is great news! Justin is by far one of the greatest guys I have ever met. I'm blessed and so thankful to call him my friend. He has been there for me throughout the years and I am forever grateful. You are in my thoughts and prayers, always Justin.

Jennifer Hauser 4 years, 4 months ago

Kirsten much agreed, this is great news! I've known Justin since I was a little girl. He has always been such a great and supportive friend. I've been thinking of you often, Justin. Sending all my love and prayers to you and your family.

Stephanie Gomez 4 years, 4 months ago

This is wonderful news! I have also known Justin since elementary school and he is simply one of the greatest guys around. I consider myself lucky to call him a friend. He has been through so much and is still always looking out for others. Justin, I've been thinking of you constantly and keeping you in my prayers. Love and positive thoughts coming your way!

Mary Edwards 4 years, 4 months ago

I haven't known Justin for as long as the people above. However, in the time I have known him I have been humbled by his kindness, hard-working mentality and down to earth personality. Sending so much love to him and his wonderful family.

Bridget Murphy 4 years, 4 months ago

So happy to hear this news. Justin has always been such a great, kind and caring person. I'm hoping this means the best for him and his family. I grew up with him, and I can't imagine he or his family enduring more pain. From preschool and on, he has always been such a good friend in so many ways. He always supports everyone around him, and I hope he knows how much we all love him. Sending positivity and love, as much as I can!

Becky Riley 4 years, 4 months ago

Such great news! I am so thankful to call Justin a close friend. He is such a genuine, caring person and comes from such an amazing family that so many of us have been continually blessed to know and love. As a family member of the individual Justin was protecting, I pray on behalf of my family that both the Gonzalez and Sardina families can finally be at peace.

Lisa Milliren 4 years, 4 months ago

What a relief that the justice system worked fairly, and that the jury seated used their common sense. Having known Justin and the entire Gonzalez family for a number of years, I never imagined for a second that this young man could have acted with maliciousness or ill will. It was a split second decision that had entirely unforeseen consequences. My thoughts go out to all families involved, and pray that the matter will finally be laid to rest and everyone can find peace.

Lesli Johnston Keister 4 years, 4 months ago

With all due respect to the Sardina family, I believe that this outcome is the correct one. No one can say how we would react in this situation and if you are in fear for your safety, you are going to take action. It is unfortunate that someone had to lose their life but I also believe that it was impossible to say with 100% certainty that the blow with the beer bottle lead to his death. I don't think any jury will ever be able to agree that this is a punishable act and I do hope that the city does not decide to waste additional monies in retrying this case. Let the families heal and move past this dark time.

Ashleigh Lotti Lottinville 4 years, 4 months ago

Justin is my daughter's Godfather and was chosen to be based on the person that he is. He is a loving, caring and protective person. If anything were to happen to me I would be able to rest easy knowing that my daughter's life would be in his hands. He truly cares about his family and friends. He is not a malicious or devious person and he would never harm another person for any other reason than to protect someone he loved. I am sorry for the Sardina Family and I know Justin is more sorry than anyone, and I hope that this may never go back to trial for the sake of keeping Justin with his family that needs him and letting the Sardina's wounds heal with time.

Dana Bartz 4 years, 4 months ago

A friend of mine shared this story with me from the beginning. What a tragedy for everyone involved. I don’t think any of us can say how we would react to a situation that causes us fear for our safety or even what the outcome of that response would be. I truly believe the right decision was handed down in this case. My heart goes out to both families and I hope this can be put behind them so they can move on with the grieving process and heal.

Jerry Remsbecker 4 years, 4 months ago

The entire case is a tragedy. this should never have occurred. A great man who served his country during wartime and returned home only to be killed at a party is a tragedy beyond comprehension. I feel very sorry for the family of Nick Sardina, who lost their son . This was no accident, nor was it intentional, but it did result in a death. The family deserve some closure and they do not have any yet. Only those present know exactly what happened and will carry that with them the rest of their lives. You don't hear Nick's side of the story because he is not from Lawrence, but that does not mean that he was less of a person. There is no verdict, and I fully expect that this will result in a re-trial. It is definitely not an exoneration of Justin's actions in any way.

Laura Eccles 4 years, 4 months ago

This is a sad story. It is asinine that Zimmerman would walk after shooting an unarmed teen, but that this young man is facing a manslaughter charge for taking a defensive posture during an old-fashioned bar brawl. Ridiculous. I did not know either of the men involved in this fight, but keeping up with the news on it has astounded me. I mean, I could see if Justin Gonzalez had a record or had been in similar types of trouble before that there may have been a need to take this case further... But from what I can tell, he seems to be a pretty good guy and has been his whole life!? And, as a 14-year military spouse, I feel the need to say, based on relationships with the war veterans in my life, just because he was a war veteran does not mean he was a great man. Unfortunately, service members, especially those who have had to serve for so many deployments, often lose their "greatness" due to the trauma of war. We, as a country and society, do a terrible job of taking care of our service members post-deployment, and, as a result, they oftentimes end up participating in or committing horrendous acts of violence. Also, as a 14-year military spouse, I am so sorry for the loss the Sardina family is experiencing. It is completely unfair and heartbreaking. They say time heals all wounds, but I don't really believe that. I think there are wounds that will always hurt a bit, more than a bit at times. This is just plain ole sad, heartbreaking pain. The thoughts and prayers of many are with you. Finally, I do not see how convicting Justin would alleviate this family's pain or otherwise further justice in any way. I'm really hoping the system works this time. Gonzalez family, the thoughts and prayers of many are with you.

Ronn McLane 4 years, 4 months ago

Fantastic News!! Justin was my neighbor for 12 years and an upstanding guy just like his Dad. Justin I know that your Dad is proud of you and that he is getting high fives and fist bumps from all the other angels.

Shannon Miller 4 years, 4 months ago

This is such a tragic incident for everyone involved. It seems obvious to me that once someone takes an argument to a physical level you have a right to defend yourself and those you care about. If the prosecutor's do decide to go for a retrial I can not image them finding twelve people that think Justin did not have a right to react in brawl. A retrial would, in my opinion, be a further misuse of state resources.

Chester Jamison 4 years, 4 months ago

I think the Douglas County DA's office should put this case to rest. Period. They tired the case and they lost the case; to retry it would be a huge waste of time and money. The Gonzalez kid is obviously well-thought of and had a lot of support during his trial. I'm pretty sure the last two years have been punishment enough for him and his family. I'm sorry Nicholas Sardina lost his life but from what I hear, his fondness for chemicals made him pretty unpredictable.

Ellen Debose 4 years, 4 months ago

I know the Gonzalez family and and Justin is a kid well-liked by many. This is a tragedy for both families with a tragic ending. The past two years have been punishment enough, and having another trial is a waste of tax payers money. The DA's office should put this case to rest and let both families get on with their lives. Putting Justin in prison would be horrible since it was a bad situation that happened at a college party where he was defending himself. His family has suffered and putting him in prison will not solve anything.
Finally, I do not see how convicting Justin would alleviate this family's pain or otherwise further justice in any way. I'm really hoping the system works this time. My prayers are with the Gonzalez family right now! I hope this trial doesn't happen.

Chester Jamison 4 years, 4 months ago

What would be the point of locking up Justin Gonzalez? A hard-working, studious, God-fearing, loving kid who’s never been in trouble? To help the Sardina family feel better? A civil system should not be ruled or driven by emotions. Locking up someone is punishment. It takes away their respect and humanity. It's isolation, its daily survival, it’s ruining their chances at a decent future. The Sardina’s seem like civilized people; they should be better than revenge.

Susan Miller 4 years, 4 months ago

Justin Gonzalez is a wonderful, kind, respectful young man and he does not deserve to be punished for defending another in a brawl. Everyone has the right to defend themselves or others.

Jerry Remsbecker 4 years, 4 months ago

I would think that if Justin is truly innocent, he would want a re-trial so his name could be cleared. The fact that most of the people commenting here seem to think that Justin has been cleared are sadly mistaken. If there is no re-trial, Justin will have to live his entire life knowing that at any time, this case can be re-opened. I am also amazed at the picture of Nick Sardina that is presented as fact in these comments. I've known Nick for a number of years and he was the guy that I would trust with my friends and family. I've talked to those who served with him in Iraq and I stand by my assertion that he was a hero there and remained a good human being afterwards. The defense attorney's job is to present allegations and try to introduce doubt into the minds of the jury. Many of the allegations she made were not proven and certainly don't fit the guy I knew. It is a tragedy, but let's get to the bottom of it so everyone, except Nick, can get on with their lives.

Chester Jamison 4 years, 4 months ago

To Kathleen Forsyth, Obviously, as Nicolas Sardina's mother, you feel this way. I understand that. But I think what you "heard" in court was what you "wanted" to hear. The reason the toxicology screen showed Nick's drug and alcohol at "therapeutic levels" is because he wasn't found and tested until 8 hours after the brawl. The whole night in question was an extremely sad and unfortunate series of events. However, punishing Justin will not bring your son back and I can't believe it would ease any of the grief you are feeling.

Sarah Resovich 4 years, 4 months ago

I am proud to say Justin is a friend and I wish him and the Gonzalez family all the best through this difficult time. I have never known a more caring, intelligent, humble man as Justin. All families involved deserve peace and I pray they find it. Much love to Justin and his family.

Sean Halpin 4 years, 4 months ago

Justin, When I went to your father's funeral I saw something in you I knew was always there. As you and your family walked down the aisle of the church and approached the faithfully departed you were the rock and foundation for your family that they needed in that moment. You were filled with the strength that your father left you and that strength will be with you all the days of your life, knowing that he is always with you, especially in these difficult times. In that moment I saw something that can only be seen in a good man, a family man, a man of faith and loyalty. That the court has called a mistrial only extends the agony for you and all parties involved but knowing your faith you will endure just as all good men do. May God Bless you and yours in these hard times.

Ryan Kearns 4 years, 4 months ago

I've known Gonzo for a while and I consider him one of my best friends. Whenever we would talk for the last couple years he would not go into any detail of that night, but would remain somber and humble when thinking of it. I think it would do us all justice if we could remember Nick for being the brave man that he was, fighting for our country, and not trashing his last memories and reputation by thinking about his last moments in a brawl... Everyone knows the caliber of people these two men are, so let's try to move on. Try.

Celia Lopez 4 years, 4 months ago

This case should be put to rest. It would be a waste of further time and money, and I'm sure that the last two years have been punishment enough for the Gonzalez kid and his family. Like someone said earlier, when someone takes things to a physical level, one has the right to protect themselves, their friends and/or family. There was a reason for the mistrial...there's no way they'll find 12 people that would not agree that Gonzalez made a split second decision when he was in fear of his friend being hurt. It was a fight, there was alcohol involved...for some don't know what you would do to defend yourself if you were in the same situation.

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