Archive for Monday, June 2, 2014

Justin Gonzalez trial: Clash of two groups led to death, manslaughter charge

June 2, 2014


Two groups of young men — one largely Hispanic and another mostly white men with fraternity ties — clashed at a house party in the Oread neighborhood in February 2012, leading to the death of one man, and a charge of involuntary manslaughter against another.

That was the testimony Monday in the retrial of Justin P. Gonzalez, who is accused of hitting Nicholas Sardina over the head with a beer bottle and causing an injury that led to his death the next day.

The first trial ended in a mistrial in December 2013 when a jury could not reach a unanimous verdict.

What they all shared in common, according to testimony, was that they had all been drinking heavily the night of Feb. 25, and members of each group were friends with different women who shared a house at 301 W. 14th St. where the party and fight took place.

Cassidy Judy, who is now 23, said he didn't particularly know either of the two groups at the party that night. He had come there to meet up with a friend and one of the roommates of the house who were not involved in the party. But he said it was immediately apparent that the difference between the groups was their ethnicity.

"They were not white," Cassidy said of the first group, which already had a party underway when he arrived around midnight. "I don't want to say Mexican. That's a stereotype that I'm falling into."

He described the second group, which arrived later, around 2 or 2:30 a.m., as "a frat group."

The party mainly involved a tight-knit group of friends who'd grown up together in the Kansas City area and attended Bishop Miege High School. Whitney Beck, one of the women who lived at the house, helped organize the party with Gonzalez and several other friends, including Jake Anderson.

Anderson testified Monday that the party began around 10 p.m., although he had started drinking a few hours earlier. Some individuals brought six-packs of beer, but there was also a keg of beer on the back porch, as well as a table set up in the living room for playing a drinking contest known as "beer pong."

Around 2 a.m., Anderson said, one of the other roommates came home with a group of other friends, including Sardina.

"They were dressed in a nice attire," Anderson said. "I just thought they were frat boys."

The other roommate became angry that the party was still going on and insisted the music be turned off and that everyone leave. From that point on, witnesses said, tensions between the two groups escalated.

But after more than two years since the incident occurred, many of the witnesses said they no longer remembered exactly what happened, or who instigated the fight, and prosecutors repeatedly had to show them transcripts of statements they had given police or testimony they'd given in previous hearings to refresh their memory.

Anderson said he remembered hearing some of the fraternity men make disrespectful comments about his friend, Whitney. He approached them and told them to stop making such comments.

Anderson also remembered shouting an obscene curse at the "frat boys." Within seconds, according to witnesses, Sardina shoved Anderson into a wall. Anderson pushed back, but Sardina reportedly punched him hard across the left cheek.

Cassidy testified that he jumped into the melee in an effort to keep people apart but ended up taking several punches himself.

At one point, prosecutors allege, Gonzalez picked up a beer bottle and hit Sardina in the back of the head. At first, it didn't appear Sardina had suffered a serious injury. He and other friends reportedly walked to a fraternity house in the 1600 block of Tennessee where they spent the night.

According to earlier testimony, Sardina had been drinking heavily and taking drugs before arriving at the party. He reportedly had taken at least two doses of a generic form of the anti-anxiety drug Xanax, and an autopsy showed signs of cocaine in his system after he died the next day.

Prosecutors say the cause of death was blunt trauma to the head.

The main question before the jury will be whether Gonzalez acted recklessly, or whether he acted with reasonable force in an effort to rescue his friend Anderson from the fight.

The trial is expected to continue at least through the rest of this week.


Steve Jacob 3 years, 10 months ago

I can see why another jury could not decide this, looks like a tough case. Wonder why the DA went to court again. You do have to feel bad for the Sardina family.

Ashleigh Lotti Lottinville 3 years, 10 months ago

Sardina was known for fighting and Justin has a crystal clear past... many of Sardina's friends say he was a ticking time bomb. I agree that it was a tragic loss for his family, but trying to pin Sardina's death on Gonzalez is just wrong. Gonzalez acted in self-defense (or defense of another, Same law, for those who want to argue.) And now is being tried for Manslaughter?? This is a waste of time and money. I am sure the Lawrence PD thought they had a cut and dry murder case but once it got to court it was clear that they were wrong... Now they are taking it to trial FOR A SECOND TIME just so they can be "right"??? Ok City of Lawrence I love you as a whole but its time for your "Justice" System to grow up. Admit defeat and let these poor families get back to their lives.

Steve Swaggerty 3 years, 10 months ago

But Sardina is a "VETERAN" which makes him immune for any stupid stuff he may do. If that weren't the situation, this case would have never gone to trial!

Susan Miller 3 years, 10 months ago

How many Hispanic males does it take to make some people uncomfortable? ? Apparently four... at this party according to Cassidy Judy witness for the prosecution. How ridiculous!

Erin Cerny 3 years, 10 months ago

What does it matter what kind of group it was? This sounds very racist. And how can a jury convict this person without evidence of it truly being a hit to the head.It's a tragedy and nothing will bring him back, unfortunately. But hasn't this been punishment enough for him and his family?

Kenny Cochrane 3 years, 10 months ago

Its sad that Sardina passed away but why try to ruin another young mans life. Justin is a great guy from a great family. Lets hope that this trail ends in Justin's favor and he gets to move on with his life.

3 years, 10 months ago

Think about've been drinking HEAVILY...taking anti anxiety pills which means you're not gonna feel any anxiety....and top it off with cocaine. are a lit fuse...

Shannon Miller 3 years, 10 months ago

Let's hope the jury send the district attorney a clear message. It is okay to defend your friends in danger!!

Maria Villanueva 3 years, 10 months ago

To the Sardinia Family, I'd like to offer my condolences and a thank you for their son's service to our country. That being said, I'm going to make the assumption that he did not return home whole. Whether he suffered from PTSD or other service related issues, his drug and alcohol use (and misuse of a prescription medication) can't be overlooked. His propensity for fighting contributed to the situation. His training would most certainly make him a formidable opponent in an altercation- he has been trained to defend himself at the very least.

Justin is an upstanding young man. He is thoughtful and conscientious and much like his father, would do anything for his family or friends. Stepping in to defend a friend is an honorable action and Mr. Sardinia probably would have done the same for any of his friends. Tragically, the use of a beer bottle is being attributed to the cause of death, blunt trauma. However, I don't believe the use of a beer bottle is unjustified. I find it difficult to believe Justin had malicious intent when striking Mr. Sardinia with the beer bottle. By most accounts, the two shook hands sometime after the altercation and each went their own way. Did Mr. Sardinia's drug and alcohol use that evening prevent him from realizing he needed medical treatment? That is a question we can't answer.

The first trial ended in a mistrial and it seems that there isn't any new significant evidence to facilitate a conviction. It seems a waste of taxpayers money and an undue stress on both families.

Justin is my younger cousin and I am praying for an acquittal. I am sure this incident has not left him unscathed as it is something he will have to live with for the rest of his life. I am also praying for peace for both my family and the Sardinia family.

Maria Villanueva 3 years, 10 months ago

Correction: Sardina not Sardinia. My apologies.

Leslie Swearingen 3 years, 10 months ago

I too think this young man should be acquainted and returned home. In doing so let us not be blind to the realities of the potential for culture conflict and the very real town vs gown mentality.

Chad Hays 3 years, 10 months ago

Something needs to be fixed in this Douglas County courthouse. What has happened to the justice system there? From all the articles I have read it appears to be that they are out to get a conviction and not search for justice. Last time I checked, justice in the court system is fairness and moral rightness NOT conviction if someone was acting on their own rights as a citizen. It seems to be that the DA is getting too caught up in a wrongful conviction of a young man who was only using self defense to defend someone who was being attacked.

Lindsay Grantham 3 years, 10 months ago

"In order for evil to flourish, all that is required is for good men to do nothing." Nowadays, people are too afraid to intervene to assist those in need because they are afraid of being litigated against. This is a prime example of this. Justin acted reasonably and admirably in order to protect his friend who was in a match against an aggressive, hockey-playing, war veteran under the influence of drugs and alcohol. If justin had not intervened, his friend might have died. The fact that this case has gone to trial at all is ridiculous

Dolores Nairn 3 years, 10 months ago

I’m sorry for the Sardinia’s Family lost. Did they know all the issues their son was dealing with? Here is a person (Mr. Gonzalez) defending his friend from harm, because of these issues. It sound like Nick was fine after the fight. Why blame Mr. Gonzalez for Nick’s death, obviously Nick had some real issues with drugs, alcohol and violence. Why was a grown man at a teenage party? This trial seems senseless, thank God for people like Mr. Gonzalez who stand up for what is right.

Charlotte Greenhagen 3 years, 10 months ago

I have been following the articles on this case. I too am sorry for the Sardina Family loss. But after reading and re-reading the articles, I don't know of one person who can say they are 100% sure that the beer bottle caused this death. Is it possibe that Mr. Sardina may have contributed to his own death, due to the alcohol and drugs in his system. Read it again, they shook hands, they walked to a house, one article states, house belonging to Walter, another article states frat house and yet another states an apartment. Question is what really went on after the fight at the house, did he continue to party after they left the fight, did he fall, did he get in another fight, too many hours passed to solely pin the death on Mr. Gonzalez. Mr. Gonzalez obviously feared for his friends life by trying to deter Mr. Sardina away from him. Something about Mr. Sardina made him fear for his friend, think about it a trained combat veteran. He acted as any friend would. I know my boys would and I would expect them too. As stated above in another post, too many people look the other way! Of course the autopsy showed the blow to the head, never once that I have read has Mr. Gonzalez denied this fact, but it also showed that cocaine was in his system, which troubles me. My question is how can you convict Mr. Gonzalez, if Mr. Sardina ingested a lethal cocktail ( alcohol and drugs) and went to sleep and never woke up. So therefore no one can say without a shadow of a doubt they know that Mr. Gonzalez is guilty!! So many of our youth have died from mixing alcohol and drugs, they get beyond reasoning and then it is too late!

Sam Cowan 3 years, 10 months ago

So, I guess Cassidy Judy and the prosecution believe that only Anglo-Saxons should be considered white?

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