Following a two-day trial, a Talladega County jury of six women and six men needed less than an hour Thursday to come back with a guilty verdict in the trial of a Talladega man accused of murdering his stepfather in 2017.
Leonardo Adrian Gonzalez, 31, now faces 10 to 99 years in prison. He will be sentenced April 7 at 11 a.m. by Circuit Judge Chad Woodruff.
Gonzalez killed Dario Lopez on July 7, 2017, by stabbing him repeatedly with a steak knife borrowed from a neighbor and a pair of scissors.
According to his own testimony, Gonzalez had traveled to South Carolina the day before for a court appearance in North Carolina regarding a domestic violence complaint brought against him by the mother of his children. Gonzalez returned to Talladega, and a neighbor testified that he heard Gonzalez and Lopez arguing about a dog, although the neighbor said he didn’t speak Spanish and could not provide any further details.
Based on his testimony and evidence at the scene, Gonzalez had first attempted to strangle one of the family dogs with hands, then ended up stabbing her with the scissors.
He then went to the house of another neighbor and asked to borrow the steak knife.
According to the medical evidence, Lopez was stabbed repeatedly in the head, neck, back and chest, and had defensive wounds on his hands. Most of the wounds would likely not have been fatal on their own, but one penetrated the subclavian artery and vein, then punctured one of his lungs.
Gonzalez eventually broke the handle off the steak knife and used the scissors that he had attacked the dog with earlier.
Lopez called 911 and was able to tell the dispatcher that he had been stabbed by his stepson, then named his attacker. He also repeatedly told the dispatcher that he was dying. Once the officers arrived, he asked for water several times, a sign that he was bleeding to death, according to the medical evidence.
Although he had a cell phone with him, Gonzalez ran back to the neighbors he had borrowed the steak knife from and demanded that they call 911 as soon as possible. He was still next door when the police arrived.
Gonzales used a highly unusual defense at trial, saying that while driving back from the Carolinas, vapor had begun to come out of the vents of his Chevrolet pickup truck. Based on a later recall and a couple of articles he read on the internet, he said he had concluded that Freon was leaking from the truck’s air conditioner and blowing into the cab of his truck.
As a result of the Freon leak, possibly in combination with a then-undiagnosed hypothyroid condition, he became temporarily delusional and subject to hallucinations. He said he believed the spirit of his recently deceased mother-in-law had become trapped in the dog, and he had to kill the dog to release the spirit. Then, he testified, he realized that Jesus had become manifest within him, and that his stepfather was a demon who knew when Christ would manifest and was planning to kill him.
Gonzalez testified Lopez was a wonderful man who had raised him as his own. He also admitted stabbing him, but Gonzalez refused to say that he had actually killed him. Instead, he admitted to viciously attacking him but pointing out that he had died at the hospital some hours later.
The state recalled the medical examiner Thursday morning as a rebuttal witness to Gonzalez’s testimony. Dr. Stephen Boudroux explained to the jury that Freon equivalents (the substance with the proprietary name Freon has been banned in most countries since the late 1980s) can cause light-headedness and dizziness for a very brief period of time, and continued use will eventually result in the user passing out. Exposure to very large amounts over a prolonged period of time can result in death, which he said he has seen twice. The effects come from cutting off oxygen to the brain.
Freon is not an intoxicant, however, and there is no evidence that it causes psychosis.
Gonzalez’s attorneys had filed a plea of not guilty by reason of severe mental disease or defect early in the case, but that plea was withdrawn at Gonzales’s insistence.
The case was investigated by the Talladega Police Department. Talladega County District Attorney Steve Giddens and Chief Assistant District Attorney Christina Kilgore prosecuted the case.
Gonzalez was defended by attorneys Laurie Andrejeski and Mark Nelson.