- Jon Kelley
- Gabriel Gonzales was accused of murder until the deputy district attorney admitted this week that there was no physical evidence against him.
Pressing his cell phone to his ear, Gabriel Gonzales leapt from his chair and pounded his heart a couple times.
"That's great," he said. "Thank you very much, sir,"
His eyes wet with tears, Gonzales hung up and explained that it had been his lawyer on the phone. Dan Zook had just told his client that the local District Attorney's Office was likely to drop the first-degree murder charges he was facing because of a lack of evidence.
And a few days later, on Tuesday, Deputy District Attorney Robin Chittum indeed moved to dismiss the case. She stated that DNA tests on blood found on Kinslow's sweatshirt and gun shell casings from the crime scene did not belong to the 19-year-old Gonzales. Chittum added that a "key" witness had died in an unrelated all-terrain vehicle accident.
Judge Gilbert Martinez granted the motion, leaving Gonzales and his family to reflect afterward.
"They never had a case against him," said Gonzales' uncle, Roberto Gonzales, a University of California-Irvine sociology professor, who flew to Colorado Springs to support his nephew. "It's a shame. There are two victims: Thomas Kinslow and Gabriel Gonzales, who spent months in jail."
Acting on a tip
Gonzales had vigorously proclaimed his innocence since being arrested on Jan. 13 in relation to the shooting death of 20-year-old Thomas Kinslow in the early morning hours of Nov. 22, 2005.
Kinslow, described by his aunt as a "really good kid," was studying at Pikes Peak Community College to become a math teacher.
His life was brutally cut short near Constitution Avenue and Academy Boulevard after he left work at Hollywood Video. An assailant shot him twice in the back and once in the back of the head.
Kinslow's parents were too emotionally distraught to come to court for the hearing, said Kinslow's aunt, Debbie Chadwick.
But Kinslow's mother, Pam Kinslow, pleaded for her son's killer to be found in a statement released after Gonzales' case was dismissed: "We want the person who killed our son to be held accountable. We also don't want a possibly innocent man to go to prison."
Colorado Springs police and prosecutors centered their attention on Gonzales following a tip to Pikes Peak Area Crime Stoppers. The tipster or tipsters appeared to be among the 10 witnesses prosecutors claimed would testify against Gonzales in a February preliminary hearing. At the hearing, a police detective characterized Gonzales as "cocky," a "braggart" who carried and fired a gun in a field not far from where Kinslow was shot.
Gonzales had a 9 mm Smith & Wesson semi-automatic gun that police obtained with a warrant. But ballistics tests revealed in the hearing that it wasn't the gun that killed Kinslow.
During the same hearing, an eyewitness claimed Gonzales did not appear to be the murderer.
Zook this week said phone records would also have proved it highly improbable that Gonzales could have killed Kinslow.
Time for a getaway
Three other possible male suspects were questioned by police, but were cleared early in the investigation.
However, Zook, a former prosecutor for the district attorney who took over Gonzales' case a few months ago, said police should have scrutinized those possible suspects better.
The men admitted breaking into cars the night of the murder, and used that as their alibi in the Kinslow killing, he said. But about a week prior to the murder, Kinslow's car had been broken into. And, Zook said, police discovered gunpowder residue on the hand of one of the men a man who also failed a lie-detector test.
Police Lt. Rafael Cintron declined to comment on the murder, stating that the investigation still is considered to be "moving forward."
"We're going to take a look at everyone," he said, adding that Gonzales is no longer a suspect, but rather a "person of interest."
Roberto Gonzales, reacting to that statement, said it was "political" for police to not clear his nephew's name, and that it appeared the police investigation was botched from the onset, providing Kinslow's killer ample time to get away.
"They have wasted a year focusing on the wrong person," he said.
Gonzales' mother, Aimee Gonzales, added that prosecutors didn't expect the outpouring of support from well-wishers around the country, who helped fund legal costs to clear her son's name.
Now managing a retail store, Gonzales is putting his life back together. He was released on bail in June after spending nearly six "scary" months in jail.
He now wants people to know he is no longer charged with killing Kinslow.
"My nightmare is finally over," he said. "I just want people to know the truth. Some people are probably going to say a murderer walked. But that's not what happened here."