Bakersfield, California 2020-09-16 19:30:00 –
The only person arrested and charged with the murder of Bakersfield businessman Jose Arredondo in Cabo San Lucas walked out of custody Tuesday afternoon and into the embrace, applause and cheers from family and friends.
“Roberto! Roberto! Roberto!” they chanted as a group of about 30 people hugged and shook his hand outside the court building. The first one to hug him was his mother as her eyes welled up.
“I feel extremely happy and so glad this is finally over,” Roberto Gonzalez said with a tinge of disbelief in his voice during an interview by phone from Cabo San Lucas shortly after his release. “I want to thank everyone who supported me and believed in my innocence.”
The action was not totally unexpected, but is considered to be a major blow for prosecutors in Cabo San Lucas.
Last month, Judge Adrian Rios Ordaz took prosecutors to task after lawyers for Gonzalez successfully argued that all evidence gathered by police had been obtained illicitly and or improperly. Defense attorneys Jaime Tacher and Julio Cesar Garcia de Leon picked apart the state’s evidence, pointing out serious flaws in how police collected and stored blood stains allegedly found in Gonzalez’s vehicle. The blood stains were a match to the murder victim, but the defense contends police failed to inventory, photograph evidence and restrict access to it before the vehicle was taken to an impound lot. The judge ruled police failed to follow a chain of custody in securing the vehicle, making it impossible to determine if others did not have access to it.
“Not only could evidence been contaminated, but planted,” said attorney Garcia de Leon.
Police also failed to follow proper procedure during several interviews with the only witness who allegedly told police he had seen Gonzalez arrive in his car at the Gardenias condo complex, park and walk into Arredondo’s condo the night of July 15, 2019. Arredondo was found in his unit the next morning by a domestic worker, brutally murdered.
The witness, Diego Magallan, was working as a security guard at the complex that night. He was also a minor, 17 years old when interviewed on separate occasions by police. Under Mexican law, police cannot question a minor without a parent, guardian or psychologist present. Police failed to mention no such person was present when the young security guard was questioned, nor did prosecutors deny this. However, Magallan later testified he was held against his will by police, was beaten and intimidated by agents of the State Attorney General’s Office and forced to sign papers implicating Gonzalez in the murder.
“I did not know what I was signing, I was just scared,” Magallan said at a court hearing.
Gonzalez himself alleged being kidnapped, beaten and intimidated by agents of the State Attorney General’s office into confessing he killed Arredondo.
The State Attorney General’s Office did not wait for the next court hearing of Sept. 21 to drop charges against Gonzalez. It took the unusual step of petitioning the court to release Gonzalez before that date.
“This institution determines not to have sufficient elements to substantiate an accusation against Roberto Gonzalez,” read the court document filed by the AG’s office.
It is the only time prosecutors have made any public statement since Judge Rios Ordaz made his ruling last month. Gonzalez has always maintained his innocence during his 14 months in custody. Suspects accused of murder in Mexico do not have the right to bail out. Things could have turned out very differently for Gonzalez had he not had the means to hire two most competent attorneys.
Additionally, the State Attorney General’s Office was under pressure by this high-profile case that caught the attention of Elizabeth May, a member of the Canadian Parliament. Gonzalez has a daughter living in Canada who brought her father’s case to May’s attention
May fired off a couple of letters to Daniel de la Rosa Anaya, the attorney general for Baja California Sur, asking that Gonzalez be released.
“Evidence of coercion, torture, and threats have been common themes underlying (this case),” wrote May.
I asked Gonzalez what kept him strong during his 14 months being incarcerated.
“Principally I knew I was innocent, I had nothing to do with what happened to my friend Jose,” he said. “What kept me going was the support from my family and friends. And of course, prayers.”
Contributing columnist Jose Gaspar is a news anchor/reporter for Telemundo Bakersfield and KGET. Email him at [email protected] The views expressed here are his own.