An alleged gang member pleaded not guilty Wednesday in the murder of a Fresno man last month, in a case where police have kept a lot of the investigative details fairly quiet.
As the camera focused on Matthew Michael Gonzales, the murder defendant glanced at the camera, shook his head, then turned away as his attorney addressed the charge against him.
“We would enter a plea of not guilty to Count 1,” said defense attorney Kevin Little.
Fresno police arrested Gonzales last month, two weeks after someone shot and killed Steven Banda.
Investigators found the victim in the back seat of a car after a crash at Mono and Third and rushed him to the hospital where he died three hours later.
Legal analyst Tony Capozzi says it’s possible Banda led police to his own killer.
“If someone makes a statement believing they’re dying – even though that statement is hearsay, it’s not made in court – it can be used in court as an exception to the hearsay rule. Because if you believe you’re dying, whatever you’re going to say, one would believe would be the truth,” Capozzi said.
Police have also said they know two people were in the car with Banda, taking him to the hospital. When they crashed, they ran away and called 911 to get help for Banda. Capozzi says investigators may have found them and gotten information.
But police say Gonzales is a gang member and Banda’s father tells Action News his son was a gang dropout, which could make getting statements very complicated.
“In many gang cases, the defendants are silent and any witnesses in the case are silent and afraid of saying anything,” Capozzi said.
Gonzales has criminal convictions dating back to his teens — including two strikes for a 2011 robbery and attempted robbery conviction, and an open case from last year for illegally carrying a gun.
Police had to get a warrant and track him down in southern California to make the arrest, which could be used as evidence of his guilt unless his attorney can prove he wasn’t running away.
“There may be a legitimate reason to be there,” Capozzi said. “He may have had relatives down there or he may have some other reasons to be there.”
Because of his prior two strikes, Gonzales could get 75 years to life if he’s convicted of first degree murder.