Archive for Thursday, June 5, 2014

Justin Gonzalez found guilty of involuntary manslaughter; his attorney plans appeal

June 5, 2014, 4:02 p.m. Updated June 5, 2014, 4:45 p.m.


After about a day of deliberations, a jury Thursday found Justin P. Gonzalez guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the 2012 death of Nicholas Sardina at a house party in Lawrence.

The defense plans to appeal.

Members of Gonzalez's family cried, some uncontrollably, as the verdict was read.

Gonzalez, 23, of Mission, hit Sardina, 27, of Lawrence, over the head with a beer bottle during a brawl at a party in the 300 block of West 14th Street in the early morning hours of Feb. 25, 2012. Gonzalez had argued that he was trying to protect a friend under attack by Sardina. Prosecutors said Gonzalez used excessive force in striking Sardina, who later died from his injuries.

The first trial in December ended in a hung jury. The retrial began last Wednesday.

“This was a difficult and tragic case. One family has to deal with the loss of a loved one and Mr. Gonzalez will have to live with the fact he took a life," District Attorney Charles Branson said in a statement Thursday. “No matter the outcome of the second trial, we felt the community should decide this case.”

Gonzalez, who remains free on bond, faces probation to 34 months in prison because of his lack of criminal history, according to his lawyer. A sentencing scheduling hearing has been set for June 17.

Defense attorney Sarah Swain said she would be appealing the verdict on the grounds that the court gave the jury improper instructions on how to convict and should have allowed the jury to hear about Sardina's history of violence. She said she will also push the judge to sentence her client to probation.

"Justin Gonzalez is a very nice, responsible young man. He has a very bright future," Swain said. "His father passed away unexpectedly during the course of this case, so he has taken on the responsibility of being the man in the family."

Gonzalez's aunt, Nancy Bennett, said the state relied on a "bunch of drunks" to prove its case rather than people who were sober at the party that night and could have testified that her nephew was only trying to protect his friends.

"But that's our court system these days," added Gonzalez's uncle, Anthony Gonzalez. "It's all about winning the case and not so much allowing justice to take place."

The jury interrupted its deliberations Thursday morning to rehear testimony from Jake Anderson, the friend of Gonzalez's who got into the initial altercation with Sardina. Anderson had testified during trial that he didn't feel like he needed help during the fight, and that Gonzalez told him he picked up a beer bottle and struck Sardina with it after he saw him punch Anderson. Gonzalez, however, testified that he struck Sardina with a Dos Equis bottle he was drinking from because he feared for Anderson's life.


Sam Cowan 4 years ago

I wonder how the jury will feel once they realize Judge Peggy Kittel didn’t allow them to hear about Mr. Sardina’s tendency towards violence. Will the jury regret their guilty verdict after learning that on the morning of February 24, 2012, the exact same day of the infamous party, Mr. Sardina was sentenced in Douglas County Court for a previous battery charge from July 2011……and who was the prosecuting attorney on that case? None other than Eve Kemple. How unethical of the DA’s office to portray Mr. Sardina as such a great guy knowing his history of violence. On the morning of the party, he was placed on two years’ probation and ordered to refrain from fights, drugs and alcohol….not even 8 hours later he was popping and snorting pills, consuming hard liquor, crashing a party and starting a fight. Shame on Judge Kittel, shame on Eve Kemple and shame on the Lawrence, Kansas District Attorney’s office.

Lesli Johnston Keister 4 years ago

To say I am shocked at this verdict is an understatement. I don't know if this jury will regret their decision once they learn the full story about Mr. Sardina's history, only time will tell. I can say that had I been on the jury and learned after the fact about his violent past, I'd feel duped. I also hate to think that in this man's drunken and drugged state that night, all alone after all the witnesses had passed out, he hit his head... and now another man is being held accountable for an accident. To me that is enough reasonable doubt that this jury just shouldn't have been able to overcome. My only hope is that this judge will show leniency for Mr. Gonzalez. What a sad and shameful day for the justice system.

Arnie Bunkers 4 years ago

No way that was withheld. That was material to the case. Went to state of mind

Jeremiah Jefferson 4 years ago

Sorry but Gonzales's life was not in jeopardy that night. He took a cheap shot with a beer bottle and killed a man. I am not at all surprised at this verdict. Doesn't matter what Sardina's history is. Moral of the story, don't do drugs, don't start fights, don't bash people in the head with beer bottles and nothing good happens at 2am in the morning after a keg party.

Bob Forer 4 years ago

"Moral of the story, don't do drugs, don't start fights...."

If Mr. Sardina had followed such advice he probably still be alive.

Shawn Herrman 4 years ago

I agree with you. It's a tragic event for both parties. It's easy to get caught up rooting for a guy that's there to help out his buddy, but the reality is each need to be held accountable for our actions. It's not a popular view but it's one we should think about. To the people that have said, a beer bottle isn't a weapon that's just ignorant.

Steve Jones 4 years ago

Anderson had testified during trial that he didn't feel like he needed help during the fight

That's what got the conviction right there.

I'd recommend any friend of Mr. Anderson aka "liquid courage" just let him get his butt whooped, helping him out will only get YOU in trouble...

Sam Cowan 4 years ago

Don't even get me started on Jake Anderson. He completely threw Justin under the bus.

Steve Swaggerty 4 years ago

I asked this question before and didn't receive any response, so I will ask it again: If Mr. Sardina "WEREN'T a veteran would this case even have gone to trial?

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