When I started my campaign for district attorney almost two years ago, I did so with the express understanding that I did not want to be a self-serving career politician. It was my belief, through years of observation as I willingly stood on the outside of that most injurious of inner circles, that such people didn’t want change and didn’t want to help those who truly needed it. Career politicians were only interested in either keeping their jobs or trying to get elected to the next higher office.
The influx of career politicians into the criminal justice field has had a seismic effect on victims’ rights, as the few rights victims enjoyed have continuously eroded over the years in favor of bills that protect criminals. As I campaigned, I endeavored to tell voters that the role of the district attorney, although a political office, was not to be political. It was, above all else, to protect the rights of crime victims and fight for those who could not fight for themselves. To prevail in this fight, I believed it was the responsibility of the district attorney to let the public know about laws being passed in Sacramento that were harmful and dangerous to crime victims. Only through public pressure could we get our political leaders to do what was right. That was why I started writing these articles.
As many readers will know, on June 7, I lost my bid to become your next District Attorney. While I did not win, I have no regrets. I stood up for what I believed in, and I fought as hard as I could. However, it is important to understand that my having a successful election was never the goal. True victory for me can only be won when the rights of crime victims everywhere are once again the priority in the criminal justice arena. To underscore why securing the rights of crime victims over criminals must be the goal of any government, it helps to bring a real-world example into the light.
Madyson Middleton was 8 years old and the light of her family’s lives. She was sweet, curious, and loved to laugh. She loved to talk, too. Her nickname was “Chatty Maddy.” She lived in a quiet neighborhood in Santa Cruz and knew and trusted many of her neighbors. One of those neighbors was 15-year-old Adrian Gonzalez.
On July 25, 2015, Gonzalez saw Madyson playing on her scooter. It is unclear how long he had watched and fantasized about Madyson, but it was definitely longer than one afternoon. Gonzalez approached Madyson and invited her over to his apartment by promising her some ice cream. Unsuspecting, Madyson gathered up her scooter and followed Gonzalez.
Once they were inside the apartment, Gonzalez pounced. He mercilessly bound Madyson, covering her mouth with duct tape. He then tortured and stabbed her, sexually assaulted her and then choked the life out of her. Gonzalez then picked up Madyson’s body, carried it out of the apartment and threw it into a nearby dumpster.
When Madyson’s mother returned to her apartment and couldn’t find her, Madyson’s mother immediately called the police. Madyson’s remains were found later that day. Surveillance video captured Gonzalez throwing Madyson’s body into the dumpster. Gonzalez was arrested, and he gave a full confession.
Only those tortured few who have lived through the loss of a child could understand the anguish of Madyson’s parents as they learned the details of their daughter’s last moments on earth — the pain she suffered, the fear she endured. Perhaps she hoped that her parents would burst through the door and save her.
The plan was to try Gonzalez as an adult. He would have been sentenced to life in prison with the chance of parole. However, given the horrendous circumstances of his crime, it would have been decades, if ever, before he was released from prison.
But then the California legislature came to Gonzalez’s rescue. In 2018, then-governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 1391, which eliminated entirely the ability of prosecutors to try juveniles between the ages of 14 and 15 in adult court, regardless of the crimes they committed. This was quite significant because the longest a juvenile court could have jurisdiction over a subject was until he reached age 25. After that, the juvenile would be released from custody. He wouldn’t even be on parole. In signing SB 1391, Governor Brown declared that no matter how horrendous a juvenile’s crime, he still believed in “redemption and reformation whenever possible.” I am quite certain neither Governor Brown, nor any of the legislators who voted for SB 1391, nor any of our political leaders today who still support this legislation, have ever met with any family that has suffered so much due to the evil of another. I am certain none of these so-called political leaders ever would.
Instead of potentially spending the rest of his life in prison, Gonzalez will be released in October 2024 when he turns 25 years old. He will be unsupervised. While Gonzalez will have the opportunity to live out the remainder of his life in peace, young Madyson will not. The political leaders who freed Gonzalez couldn’t care less.
I am not rehearsing the tragic case of Madyson Middleton merely for effect. I want to put a face to the injustice that is taking place against crime victims in California as we speak. The damages are real, and they are shouldered by real people every day who do not have the strength or ability to fight against them. Crime victims and their families used to rely on prosecutors to be their champions. However, the California legislature has made our task enormously difficult, and it isn’t getting any easier anytime soon.
Since I am no longer a political candidate, I will not be permitted to write any more articles that call out self-serving career politicians for their shameless betrayal of crime victims and their families. I must return to being a homicide prosecutor, fighting where I can, one case at a time.
But, again, victory was never about personal success but about recognizing that crime victims must come first. Sometimes victory doesn’t come all at once but accrues in small increments over time. I am relying on all of us to continue the fight however we can, to continue to build on what we have started together. Crime victims, like the family of Madyson Middleton, are counting on it.
John Barrick has worked as a prosecutor in the Ventura County district attorney’s office for more than 17 years, where he has prosecuted some of the most violent crimes committed in the county. He currently still serves in the Major Crimes-Homicide Unit.