Archive for Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Defendant Justin Gonzalez: ‘I did the only thing I could have done’

June 3, 2014


A 23-year-old Mission man on trial for a second time in the death of a Lawrence man at a party in 2012 testified in his own defense Tuesday, saying he did the only thing he could have done at the time to protect a friend he believed to be in danger.

Justin P. Gonzalez is accused of hitting Nicholas Sardina over the head with a beer bottle and causing an injury that led to his death. He is charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Gonzalez, at times overcome with emotion, described the Feb. 24, 2012, party in the Oread neighborhood as a friendly affair where he caught up with old classmates from Bishop Miege High School and said goodbye to one who was headed off to basic training. It was friendly, Gonzalez said, until a group of people showed up about 2 a.m. with one of the residents of the home, who was angry the party hadn't ended.

So, Gonzalez testified, he got his coat and prepared to leave. That's when he saw one of his friends, Jake Anderson, arguing with an "older man" from the other group, he said in court Tuesday.

The argument got more and more heated until, Gonzalez testified, the "older man," the 27-year-old Sardina, attacked the smaller Anderson, slamming him into a wall and punching him square in the face.

"Do you remember what it looked like?" asked Sarah Swain, Gonzalez's attorney.

"Like he wanted to kill Jake," Gonzalez said.

So, Gonzalez said, he hit Sardina in the head with the bottle of Dos Equis he was drinking, stopping the attack. Members of both groups started brawling. When the dust settled a few seconds later, Gonzalez said, he and Sardina shook hands.

Later that day, one of Gonzalez's friends told him Sardina died hours after the fight.

Gonzalez's retrial — the first trial took place last December resulted in a hung jury — continued Tuesday after beginning last week. The state rested its case after calling several more witnesses, including a forensic pathologist who testified that Sardina died as a result of a blood clot in the brain caused by blunt force trauma. At issue is whether Gonzalez, a college student and restaurant worker, acted in self-defense or used excessive force in striking Sardina, a former Kansas University student and Iraq War veteran.

"I thought (Anderson) could have been killed," Gonzalez testified. "Nick didn't look like he was going to stop at all. He was just locked in on Jake. I just did the only thing I could have done at that time to stop what Nick was doing."

During cross-examination, the prosecution questioned Gonzalez on answers that didn't match up with previous testimony, including how he knew Sardina, who he had never before met, was in the military; whether he suspected Sardina had weapons; and how he was holding the beer bottle before he struck Sardina.

"I'm trying to remember everything. It's a lot," Gonzalez said, admitting he was nervous.

His testimony picks back up when the trial continues Wednesday at 9 a.m.


Cindy Jones 3 years, 11 months ago

Wow, they are trying to convict this young man for protecting his friend? That is a little ridiculous and uncalled for. From this article and many other articles it looks like Mr. Gonzalez had every right to protect his friend from being extremely hurt. What a shame Mr. Gonzalez has to go through not one but two trials.

Susan Miller 3 years, 11 months ago

Ask yourself if you see an obviously larger, older, aggressive man attack your smaller, slender friend would you take a chance shoving him away?? You would be highly likely to become his next target to be shoved with force and punched if not worse. Justin Gonzalez did what he had to do in a split second decision to not only protect his friend but also prevent himself from being Sardina's next target for violence.

Bob Forer 3 years, 11 months ago

Mr. Sardina definitely did not deserve to die. But, conversely, Mr. Gonzelez does not belong in prison. This was a very tragic and sad incident and there were definitely no winners. As a former prosecutor, I doubt this jury, or any other jury, will convict Mr. Gonzelez. I don't know if they will acquit him, but i think there is too much reasonable doubt to convict. Frankly, I don't uinderstand why this is being tried a second time.

Nancy Jean 3 years, 11 months ago

How sad is it that, you go to a going away party for a friend, a second group of people come in and suggest you all leave As you get ready to leave, two drunk people (one a college student the other a 27 yr. old army veteran) get into an argument that leads into a one-sided fight. You see your friend get forced into the wall and punched. What split second decision would anyone do to protect their friend? YOU WOULD DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO PROTECT YOUR FRIEND!! Right or wrong it's an involuntary reaction - your friend is not reacting to protect himself, you think his going to be "killed" and you react. You don't take a few minutes to think things out- YOU REACT. The article dated 6/2/14 in this paper stated "the clash of two groups", which the bottom line is frat v college student, White v Hispanic, white collar v blue collar mixed with alcohol and you have an explosive outcome. Mr. Sardina's death was not planned due to the fact that Justin Gonzalez shook hands with Mr. Sardina after the brawl was over. It's sad that death was the outcome but it's also sad that when you step up to protect your friend, and now find yourself faced with involuntary manslaughter charges as well as 12 people holding your fate in their hands.

Jeremiah Jefferson 3 years, 11 months ago

I have followed this deal from day one. One of them was a customer of mine. That said I didn't know either man on a personal basis and I for sure was not in attendance for armature night with Sardina and Gonzales. I would say Sardina was in the wrong for initiating the conflict to start with. From what I gather, Sardina had his own set of problems which may have influenced him to act the way he did. Some of you have chastised Sardina for his drug use, and violent nature and I agree there is a problem there. But I challenge anyone, and I mean anyone to do a couple tours in Iraq and not come back changed for the worse. Sardina is not alone. This country has failed its veterans miserably and Sardina may very well have been one. It doesn't make him starting a fight at a party right by no means. But I think there are a lot of misguided opinions here. Right or wrong, Gonzales killed a man using force that was not necessary. Bashing Sardina over the head with a beer bottle is not the only thing he could have done. What he should have done was called the cops and at the very most tried to restrain or break up the fight. Heat of the moment or not, protecting your friend or not Gonzales took a cheap shot and it lead to a young mans death. That's the bottom line. Do I think he should do a hard 40. No, but I don't think he should walk free either. I am quite certain he was every bit as much under the influence as Sardina. The whole story is tragic. You have a young man who survived multiple tours in a hellish war zone only to be killed in what amounts to a bar room brawl. Gonzales is facing jail time and will have to live with the fact that he killed a man over what will amount to nothing for the rest of his life. Gonzales used poor judgment and is guilty of what he is charged with. The Autopsy results are clear. Doesn't matter if Sardina had drugs in his system. Self defense doesn't work, because Gonzales wasn't defending himself. He took it upon himself to be judge, jury and executioner. If anything, Gonzales poured fuel on the fire. Moral of the story is, don't do drugs and nothing good happens at 2 am in the morning after a long night of pounding beers.

Bob Forer 3 years, 11 months ago

"Self defense doesn't work, because Gonzales wasn't defending himself."

Wrong. I went to law school. I served eight years as Labette County Attorney. As a general rule, one has the same rights to defend others as one would defending his or her own person. The distinction you make is irrelevant.

Chad Hays 3 years, 11 months ago

First and for most if you can spell Sardina's name correct by all means you should be able to spell Mr. Gonzalez's name correct as well. I also do not know either of these men. From what I have read through out this whole trial, not one but two is that there is a high amount of reasonable doubt. Who is it to say that this Mr. Gonzalez man is the main cause for Sardina's death? From what I have read there is absolutely none. Jeremiah, I also strongly disagree with what you have to say about how Gonzalez acted. He had every right to act how he did because his buddy was being ATTACKED. Is it not true that this is a right for individuals? I believe it very much is a right by the United States that Mr. Gonzalez acted on to protect his friend, who also could have died. Perhaps if Gonzalez did not intervene the tables would be turned and Sardina would be on trial for killing the man he had pinned against the corner. I also do not think it is appropriate to assume how much Mr. Gonzalez was under the influence because that again is something we do not know. You are not on the jury therefore, I believe you also do not have the right to decide his guilty or non-guilty verdict. I am curious to where you see that the "autopsy results are clear" because once again that is not stated anywhere in these articles. Self defense as stated in a previous article does in fact "work" in this case, due to the fact that under law the right of self-defense applies to the defense of another for the sake of defending one's own life or the lives of others.

Susan Miller 3 years, 11 months ago

Jeremiah Johnson- When you were 20 years old were you ever in this same situation? ? I doubt it so you really have nothing to base your statement that he could have done something else. Also my father was a Korean war veteran and he saw terrible things as well but he never acted out in a violent manner when he returned. I agree the government can do more to help our vets but they don't have the right to beat anyone they want when they return from war. Have you set a timer to the average police response in Lawrence on a busy weekend night? How many blows would you say would be enough for Anderson to receive before anyone should intervene while waiting for police??

Nancy Jean 3 years, 11 months ago

Jeremiah, are we reading the same articles?? I do agree with a few of your statements. 1) Sardina was wrong for initiating the conflict. 2) Sardina had his own set of problems but the drug & alcohol use were not the answer. 3) Our country has failed our returning veterans miserably and his actions were not justified by that.
Maybe the District Attorneys Office can spread some of the taxpayers money toward a program for our returning veterans who fight to DEFEND OUR RIGHTS, including self defense and defense of another.

Nancy Ibarra 3 years, 11 months ago

This definately could have been one of my sons at K.U. and only by the Grace of God it wasn't. Both would have come to the defense of a friend, without hesitation. One if fact did have to call 911 on a Sat. night and I know it took awhile for the ambulance and police to get there. Justin is a great guy who we have known all his life and his character is represented in what he did for his friend. He wasn't about to wait until the police came ... too late. He would have in no way wanted to really harm Sardina but I'm sure it was more to distract him, to get him to stop punching his friend. I know my sons would have done the same. I would expect nothing less. Sardina had other factors involved that night and a beer bottle would not have been the main cause of death. This scenerio has probably happened at K.U. thousands of times and this being the only outcome where death was involved, again, due to more than a beer bottle. Very sad for everyone involved.

Leslie Swearingen 3 years, 11 months ago

What is the possibility that Sardina had the blood clot in his brain before the party and would have died anyway?

I too hope that Justin is fully acquitted.

Charlotte Greenhagen 3 years, 11 months ago

Come on people no one takes a beer bottle to kill someone, my god, give it a break, he did it to deter the guy away from his friend, Obviously Mr. Gonzalez feared he couldn't handle this guy, or he would have grabbed him or hit him. Like he said he saw Mr. Sardina wanted to kill his friend, what would you do...!! I can guarantee this veteran had a lot issues built up inside of him from the war and things he saw. Yes it is sad that he survived tours in the war, but obviously didn't use good judgement to want to beat up a young smaller man. No one can state on here what they would have done in the heat of the moment. I would have done the same thing. I would find me a equalizer!! I agree with Susan Miller about veterans today acting in violence, they have no right to come home and take it out on the public.. You know there is a question that should be asked.. When Mr. Sardina was punching the young man, was he Mr. Sardina the civiliarn beating up a young man at a party or did he revert back to the military killing machine that he was trained to be? Maybe the military needs to give these soldiers time to detox when they get back home. Curious what was his assignment in the military? If it was sniper, grunt, infantry, I can almost guarantee Mr. Gonzalez had every right to fear for his friends life. And you say how do I know that? My husband is a retired United States Marine.

Charlotte Greenhagen 3 years, 11 months ago

I agree with Nancy very sad for everyone involved!

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