Archive for Thursday, May 29, 2014

Second trial underway in Justin Gonzalez manslaughter case

May 29, 2014


The presentation of evidence in the jury trial of Justin P. Gonzalez began Thursday in Douglas County District Court. Gonzalez is charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the February 2012 death of Nicholas J. Sardina.

The presentation of evidence in the jury trial of Justin P. Gonzalez began Thursday in Douglas County District Court. Gonzalez is charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the February 2012 death of Nicholas J. Sardina.

Nicholas Sardina, 27, an Iraq veteran and a former Kansas University student, died Feb. 25, 2012, after an altercation earlier that day. Justin Gonzalez, a Mission resident, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in Sardina's death.

Nicholas Sardina, 27, an Iraq veteran and a former Kansas University student, died Feb. 25, 2012, after an altercation earlier that day. Justin Gonzalez, a Mission resident, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in Sardina's death.

A second trial got underway Thursday in the case involving the violent death of a 27-year-old Lawrence man during a late night party in February 2012 in the Oread Neighborhood.

Justin P. Gonzalez, of Mission, is accused of hitting Nicholas Sardina over the head with a beer bottle during a house party near 14th and Kentucky. His first trial last year resulted in a mistrial when jurors were unable to arrive at a unanimous verdict.

At issue is whether Gonzalez acted recklessly by trying to stop Sardina from attacking another friend during the fight, as prosecutors allege, or whether he acted reasonably in trying to protect his friend from serious harm, or even death, as the defense contends.

Also at issue, based on questions asked during the jury selection process, may be whether Sardina's drug and alcohol use that night played a role in the events that followed.

The charges stem from an incident the night of Feb. 24, 2012, when Gonzalez and several friends from Bishop Miege High School threw a surprise going-away party for a friend who soon to leave for the military.

Defense attorney Sarah Swain said during opening arguments that the party was, for the most part, a low-key affair as the friends talked, drank beer from a keg and played cards. But one of the friends, Jake Anderson — who was known for having "liquid courage," according to Swain — became exceedingly drunk.

Hours into the party, another group of people arrived, including Sardina and some of his friends.

Much of what happened after that seems to be undisputed. Sardina and Anderson got into a verbal altercation that quickly turned physical. Sardina shoved Anderson into a wall and punched him in the head. Gonzalez then intervened by striking Sardina in the head with a beer bottle.

At first, Sardina did not appear to be seriously injured. According to defense attorney Swain, after the fight broke up, Gonzalez and Sardina shook hands. Sardina left and spent the night at a fraternity house in the 1600 block of Tennessee St.

Sardina was alive the next morning, a Saturday, when other friends at that house got up and prepared to attend the final basketball game between Kansas University and Missouri. He was found dead sometime later that day.

Melody Schrongar, who had dated Sardina off and on for two years before his death, testified she had come to visit him on Friday. They had dinner at a Massachusetts Street restaurant, then went to a bar for a few more drinks, then to his house near 9th and Mississippi where they talked and had still more drinks.

Over the course of about four hours, she said, she watched Sardina drink a martini, a Manhattan, two old fashioneds and, once back at his home, another two or three vodka cocktails. In addition, she said she watched him take two doses of a generic form of the anti-anxiety drug Xanax — one orally and another that he crushed up and snorted.

Swain said evidence would be presented of an autopsy showing that Sardina also had cocaine in his system when he died.

Sardina had served in the National Guard and spent three tours of duty in Iraq. Patrick LeSage, a friend of Sardina's, testified that he was aware Sardina had suffered effects from the blast of an improvised explosive device, or IED.

Under Kansas law, a person can be convicted of involuntary manslaughter for causing the death of another person through, among other things, recklessness or "during the commission of a lawful act in an unlawful manner."

But senior Assistant District Attorney Eve Kemple urged the jury not to focus on the drug and alcohol use.

"The only thing that caused his death was blunt force trauma," she said.

If convicted, Kansas sentencing guidelines provide for prison terms of between 114 and 128 months.

The trial is expected to last about two weeks, according to court officials.


Jennifer Winn 3 years, 7 months ago

This is an absolute WASTE of taxpayers money and the very definition of a tyrannical Government! I have been watching this case and the bottom line is you had an individual attacked by another human being who was intoxicated and high on pharmaceuticals... This boy reacted in self defense and hit the guy who was high and attacking his friend and left...many hours later the guy died from blunt force trauma of a beer bottle??? This is a clear case of self defense. What a disgrace these DA's have become to the definition of justice, which is what they are required to seek. This case was tried once and the jury hung because they couldn't agree this boy committed "murder" so the overzealous prosecutor made a decision to spend thousands and thousands of our tax dollars AGAIN because the bottom line for them is convictions...not justice!

Clay Westerlund 3 years, 7 months ago

This case should never even gone to trial, hell if my buddy was slammed up against a wall at my place and being punched in the HEAD, I would have done whatever I could to get some drunk guy off of him. I don't know anything about blunt force trauma, but I have a hard time believing that if a guy walks it off and is still ok the next morning that a beer bottle was the sole factor in causing his death. Cocaine, Xanax, & Alcohol? I wouldn't want to mix those substances in the first place.

Jennifer Winn 3 years, 7 months ago

Correction: *WASTE Auto correct isn't always a good thing ;)

Jennifer Winn 3 years, 7 months ago

Suggest removal?? The last time I checked I have freedom of speech?

Lesli Johnston Keister 3 years, 7 months ago

I am shocked that this has gone to trial again- who is making the legal decisions in Lawrence?? The fact that one jury could not come to a unanimous decision should tell this prosecution team that they do not have a strong enough case to pursue a second trial. What a waste of thousands of tax payer dollars. Not to mention what both families must be going through. I understand the family of the deceased is sad and wants retribution... but they must acknowledge that their son was high and had known anger issues. Why ruin another young man's life, who was trying to protect himself and his friend in a split-second decision. And the family of the defendant- I can only imagine the emotional hardship & financial burden this has placed upon their shoulders- shame on you city of Lawrence. I can only hope that this second jury sends a resounding message to the prosecution team of NOT GUILTY! And then let the citizens of Lawrence ask that they account for, and reimburse tax payers, every wasted penny that was spent.

Lisa Milliren 3 years, 7 months ago

I recall reading about the first trial and thinking at the time that it was a terrible abuse of justice to prosecute a student who was merely defending a friend. I felt that if a person walks into a party and starts a fight, that they assume some level of responsibility for the consequences. While no one would assume the consequence would be death; the consequence should be his nonetheless. I am now outraged to read that this person was likely already drunk and high on xanax and cocaine. How can the prosecutors state definitively that it was the knock over the head that killed and not the combination of alcohol and drugs? Moreover, I read in another article related to pretrial motions (dated April 30th) that this person was apparently sentenced the very day of the incident in a prior battery case. Fighting was clearly not an isolated incident, but seemingly a common occurrence. Does this not speak loud and clear about the person's character?
My hope is that the newly seated jury will use common sense and reach the same conclusion that I have; namely, that it was simply defense of a friend. What bothers me the most, though, is that the accused has spent the last two years of his young life with this hanging over his head. That the family has likely had a huge outlay of cash to defend the bogus charges. That prosecutors have seemingly recklessly prosecuted a case where a student defended a friend from a known alcohol and drug abuser who was clearly used to fighting. At any given time, any of us could make a split second decision to do something we think is right, only to find ourselves prosecuted, drug through the justice process for 2+ years, face the uncertainty of a jury deciding our fate, and perhaps spend many more years serving an unjust sentence... that is scary as hell! Shame on you Lawrence prosecutors.

Shannon Miller 3 years, 7 months ago

This is such a waste of tax payer resources. I look forward to voting not to retain this judge on the next ballot. The prosecutors are untirely incompetent and my faith in the justice system is completely gone. From the under handed actions of the lawence police department to the incompetent prosecutors and judge,this entire case went way past the point of reason. I am sorry for the Sardinas loss. Nick was playing the law of averages with that life style and I see no need to drag another life down with him.

Ashleigh Lotti Lottinville 3 years, 7 months ago

After going to trial in December and coming back with and Hung Jury, this case should have been immediately dropped. The majority of the case is based on hear-say from a bunch of drunk kids. I personally believe this case should never have been tried in the first place... this was a bar brawl scenario and in those cases either no one is charged or everyone is charged. Given that everyone involved walked away and some even shook hands and apologized, means that this death was not the fault of anyone involved in the fight that night. So much money is being wasted to fly people, who have tried to move on with their lives, across the country to sit on the stand and say "I don't remember" to almost every question they are asked. I think the people of Lawrence (being one myself) would much rather see the money be put to better use on cases that actually hold some water in court. I think proceeding with this case is a selfish move on the part of the Judge and the prosecution. There is a college student and hard working kid trying to keep his life on track and he is being held down by the ridiculous thought that he may end up in jail for instinctively reacting when he saw a friend in danger. I know in the same situation I would have done the EXACT same thing, and I would hope that I would not end up in jail for it.

Mike Shatz 3 years, 7 months ago

This is absolutely ridiculous. Mr. Gonzales clearly acted in the defense of another individual. The Kansas prison system is overpopulated, we have no money for our schools, no money for our veterans, no money for our senior citizens and no money for our disabled, yet Douglas County and the City of Lawrence think we have money to incarcerate, feed and clothe this man because he defended his friend?

Lance Faegenburg 3 years, 7 months ago

What in the world is going on here? A young man dies under questionable circumstances and another is having his life threatened with ruination for defending a friend. Sardina made nice and left the party after foul behavior. Why is Gonzalez being held responsible? Is it because he didn't force Sardina to go to the hospital after receiving a head injury? There were other people there who watched him walk away from the party, why aren't they in trouble? Has anyone asked if getting ripped on a combination of downers and alcohol couldn't have done the job? At the end of the day Gonzalez walked away seemingly uninjured while he and many others made the choice not to send him to seek medical help. Rather than wasting time persecuting someone who defended a friend maybe we should use Gonzalez as a poster child against drug abuse and for raising awareness of what should be done when receiving a blow to the head. This is not justice, this is an example of finding a scapegoat. Wouldn't it be nice if our injustice system would stop looking for scapegoats and start providing justice?

Susan Miller 3 years, 7 months ago

I am glad the truth is finally coming to light about Nicholas Sardina and his lifestyle. There has been no mention of that in the news until recently. It absolutely has bearing on that night although prosecutors claim it does not. The fact is that he was in court the day of the party for a battery, as reported in the LJWORLD motons hearing article. Sardina chose to go out and abuse drugs and alcohol and assault a 20 year old kid. This was a 27 year old combat trained man not a kid and any adult knows or should know when to walk away from a loud drunk and be the better person. Sardina started the physical altercation. I do feel sorry for the Sardina family's loss but it is not justice to prosecute someone twice who was trying to defend his friend. And I am also very troubled and disgusted with the Lawrence prosecutor's office because of their handling of this case and how they treat witnesses. I thought justice was supposed to be unbiased and impartial. It seems that is not the case with the prosecutors in Lawrence. As this article states above, senior assistant District Attorney Eve Kemple urged the jury not to focus on the drug and alcohol use. She does this so she can present the jury with as little information as possible in order to win a poor case that should have never gone to trial.

Sam Cowan 3 years, 7 months ago

I was shocked to learn that Judge Peggy Kittel and the Douglas County DA’s office was re-trying this case! A civil system should not be ruled or driven by emotions. Yes, it’s tragic that the Sardina’s lost their son but seeking revenge against Justin Gonzalez is not the answer. The DA’s office should have put this case to rest and reminded the Sardina family that this is NOT a good use of taxpayers resources, that 12 jurors were unable to arrive at a unanimous verdict during the first trial, and that most likely their son Nicolas had PTSD and serious substance abuse issues which caused him to engage in risk-taking behaviors. The fact that Nicolas Sardina was in court on a battery charge, the same day that this party occurred, shows how he was a ticking time bomb. The very least the DA’s office should have done is to encourage the Sardina family to put their anger elsewhere…..perhaps doing volunteer work at the VA in order to help other soldiers cope when returning to civilian life. Reportedly, Justin Gonzalez and Nicolas Sardina shook hands after the fight….why can’t these parents do the same?

Gerilyn Semro 3 years, 7 months ago

Ridiculous waste of taxpayer money, I am completely astounded that the prosecuting attorney is pursuing this a second time. It didn't work the first time so they are spending all this money to make the mistake AGAIN? Charges should have been charged against Sardina for his inital assault that evening, anything after that attack was obviously self defense. Why was a grown man at a college party? Obviously he had many personal problems of his own that he went to parties with younger people and sought out fights. His level of aggression was extremely dangerous, putting someone into the wall and punching their head. He obviously was making dangerous choices in his life and needed help. Where were his family and friends? Thank goodness the man Sardina attacked had a friend to save him. Too bad Sardina didn't have more support so he wouldn't be out there, drunk and high and looking for fights. It's so sad that he was obviously angry and seeking physical conflicts. Thank goodness someone was able to defend Mr. Anders, a drunk kid who could have died if Sardina had not been stopped. I am sorry too for Mr. Gonzales, Mr. Anders and their families. How sad that they were just at a party with their friends when Sardina came in looking for trouble. Shame on the prosecution for trying to ruin more lives. Too bad they didn't intervene before all this happened when Mr. Sardina obviously needed help. Scary to think what else he was capable of under those conditions. I can only hope he didn't hurt other people while under so many influences. So sad. And to try to ruin another boy's life now for this stupid trial. Can someone send the bill for all this to the prosecuting attorney's home? She should cover the defense too. Apparently she see this as an appropriate way for the city's budget to be spent. What a joke. My thoughts are with all those hurting, such a sad story and miscarriage of justice.

Erin Cerny 3 years, 7 months ago

I am disappointed that this case is going to trial again. My family has a similar situation with a retrial. This is just a waste of taxpayers money. This young man comes from an outstanding family. I am not family, but a friend. This student has never been in trouble and defending a friend. There is no absolute proof that the man died from a blunt hit to the head. I am sorry for the other family and their loss, but this was a grown man with a troubled past and he started the fight. He also did not go to the hospital for any kind of treatment. Mr. Gonzalez has his whole life ahead of him and he was just defending a friend who could have ended up so much worse if this man trained in combat would not have stopped because of his seemingly out of control behavior. Mr. Gonzalez has already been tried for this. Let us learn and move on. His family has already been through so much

Gerilyn Semro 3 years, 7 months ago

What is "suggest removal" and why is it anonymous? My name is here. Whose isn't?

Gerilyn Semro 3 years, 7 months ago

I Suggest removal of anonymous person sitting at a computer anonymously suggesting removal of all comments.

Beth Cole 3 years, 7 months ago

Total waste of tax-payer money. I would be furious if I was a Douglas County resident and I was paying for this second trial. This is an obvious case of self defense. I fear for my children if they have to live in a world where they cannot even defend themselves against lethal aggressors for fear of being prosecuted. This is a basic human instinct and legal right! Kudos to Justin for defending his friend and himself, and shame on the prosecutors for trying to ruin a young man's life to alleviate their own guilt and for personal gain.

Steve Jones 3 years, 7 months ago

From what I've read, it doesn't look like Sardina called police or filed a police report after the incident. He had ample time (the rest of that night, next morning and day) to file a police report if he thought Gonzalez acted maliciously or RECKLESSLY...he didn't. Probably because he knew he was in the wrong.

So the guy who got hit in the head with the bottle, Sardina, didn't want to press charges but the DA does? This is absurd...and an abuse of power. I question the motive of the DA to retry this case.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 7 months ago

That wild mix of drugs to include alcohol could have been the culprit that took his life.

How does anyone know whether or not this person that died did not hit his head on something after being left alone? perhaps he fell? Or perhaps he encountered another altercation elsewhere?

Monster consumptions of narcotics,other drugs and alcohol can alter one's equilibrium substantially.

Nancy Jean 3 years, 7 months ago

I have been following the articles on this case closely. It seems to me the mistrial in the first hearing should have spoken loudly to the District Attorney's office that this case should not have been retried. Especially since we are now talking about street and prescription drugs being mixed with an array of alcoholic beverages. I have heard people who are under the influence have an abnormal amount of strength. With that in mind, striking Sardina with a bottle could possibly have been the only way for Justin Gonzalez to protect his friend. Why was a 27 year old man at college party with 20 year olds? Who is to say that was the first fight of the evening for Mr. Sardina since he has a history of violent behavior according to the article dated April 15, 2014 in this paper. Also being in the service, he was trained to fight whereas these college students were not. I am sorry for the Sardina family's loss but with this kind of behavior this was bound to happen sooner or later. I am also sorry for what the Gonzalez family has been through especially Justin. What a waste of taxpayer's hard earned money!!!

Bob Smith 3 years, 7 months ago

For the people who seem to have not internetted much before, this is a privately owned forum. If LJW decides your post has violated the terms of service, it gets disappeareded. The First Amendment doesn't apply. I'll admit the removal process lately seems rather arbitrary and capricious but this is their forum.

Shawn Herrman 3 years, 7 months ago

The fact that Sardina was in the military doesn't mean anything in this case. If Gonzalez, wanted to protect his friend he should of called the police or better yet grab his friend and leave. Grabbing a beer bottle in "self defense", is reckless.

Chad Hays 3 years, 7 months ago

Shawn, I would have to disagree with your statement. The fact that Sardina was in the military does very much mean something in this case. Sardina was a 27 year old man who was trained to fight. Also, if my friend was getting beat up by a man 7 years older than me, who as stated above was "highly intoxicated and mixing drugs with alcohol" I do not think my first instinct would be to call the cops, but in fact it would be to protect my friend who was getting seriously hurt or even could died for that matter. None of us can say how we would have/ should have acted in this situation if we were not present in it. This is a self defense case, therefore what matters is what Mr. Gonzalez felt and if what he felt was reasonable to protect his friend from getting seriously hurt.

Shawn Herrman 3 years, 7 months ago

Chad - I'm assuming your saying his military background means something because Gonzalez knew he was trained to fight. If Gonzalez knew he was trained to fight than Gonzalez definitely made an error in judgement. My understanding in this case was that there would of been ample opportunity for them to leave or call the cops. As far as the age I don't think there's a difference in fighting abiity from a 20 to 27 year old. You could argue both sides of that argument. I'm assuming you weren't there either, so don't see your point there. This is NOT a self-defense case.
Self-Defense definitions; 1.Defense of oneself when physically attacked. 2.Defense of what belongs to oneself, as one's works or reputation. 3.The right to protect oneself against violence or threatened violence with whatever force or means are reasonably necessary. I don't recall reading anything about Gonzalez being the one who was being attacked.

Chad Hays 3 years, 7 months ago

" The right of self-defense (according to U.S. law) (also called, when it applies to the defense of another, alter ego defense, defense of others, defense of a third person) is the right for civilians acting on their own behalf to engage in a level of violence, called reasonable force or defensive force, for the sake of defending one's own life or the lives of others."

Therefore, this is a self defense case because Mr. Gonzalez was defending the life of another. Neither of us are sitting in the court room so we do not have all the facts. But, yes this very much so is a self defense case.

Shawn Herrman 3 years, 7 months ago

I'm aware of that application of self-defense. I don't feel it's applicable in this case because he had alternatives that he didn't explore.

Chad Hays 3 years, 7 months ago

In the split second the physical altercation took place of seeing his buddy getting beat in the head. I believe there was not much time to stop and "explore other options" rather than to protect the person being harmed and using reasonable force to stop someone from accessibly punching another individual in the head.

Shawn Herrman 3 years, 7 months ago

I agree with you we don't have all the facts. I'm just saying that I can think of about 10 other non-lethal ways to difuse this besides grabbing a beer bottle and striking someone over the head in "self-defense".

Chad Hays 3 years, 7 months ago

I am sure a lot of people can think of other things to do as well, when they have time to think about it. But, right when something breaks out suddenly, not all the options could have come to mind other than needing to help his friend right at that moment. We also do not know if he grabbed a beer bottle or could have had it in his hand already, because it does not state above that he grabbed one. Hopefully more information of what happened will come about through out the trial.

Liz Reyes-Lawrence 3 years, 7 months ago

This is a waste of time and of tax payers money. Why would the DA want to continue with this trial when it clear that the young man was defending his friend, from someone who at the time, was not in his right state of mind? It is tragic, that a young man died, but there is no proof, that it was the beer bottle that actually killed this man. He could have fallen earlier or through out the day, no one knows for sure. Isn't this reasonable doubt? Why prosecute an innocent man and continue to bring up painful memories for a family that has lost their son?Hopefully the good people of Lawrence will see the truth and let Mr. Gonzalez, keep his freedom.

Steve Jones 3 years, 7 months ago

Mr. Herrman....and what are these 10 different ways? Politely asking the drunk and drug fueled gentleman to please not do that?

And you consider hitting someone in the head with a beer bottle as a "lethal"? Really?? How often do people die after being hit in the head with a beer bottle? If this were really a lethal form of attack, people all over the world would be dying by the minute from being hit by beer bottles. Many people break beer bottles over their own head, granted, not a very smart thing to do, but they certainly don't die from it.

This action was neither reckless, nor excessive. Had he broke the bottle over his head knocking him out then continued to beat him...then yes, that's crossing the line. Obviously Mr. Sardina didn't feel the actions taken against him weren't excessive or he would have called the police and had Mr. Gonzalez arrested for assault.

Celia Lopez 3 years, 7 months ago

It's absolutely ridiculous that they're pursuing this a second time. Gonzalez had every right to defend his friend. A 27 year old man under the influence of drugs and alcohol had no business starting a fight with a 20 year old. That would scare anybody. I hope I would be brave enough to do whatever it took to protect my friend. Besides, it sounds like he was fine afterwards. I have a hard time believing his extracurricular activities with drugs and alcohol didn't contribute to his death. And, like someone said, who's to say he didn't fall or get into another altercation after the fight? That is very likely for someone who had a serious problem with substance abuse and anger issues.

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