The Santa Cruz 15-year-old charged with kidnapping, sexually assaulting and raping an 8-year-old girl made his first court appearance on Thursday in a brief hearing.
Adrian Jerry "AJ" Gonzalez was led into the courthouse by an attorney, looking down, and mostly sullen. He did not enter a plea and spoke only to answer questions from a judge, saying a simple "yes" when asked if he would waive his right to a speedy trial. He wore a green T-shirt and khaki pants issued to minors and his hands were bound in front of him in silver metal cuffs. A woman who appeared to be his mother was in the courtroom, too upset to speak. It did not appear as though the mother of Maddy Middleton - the girl who was killed on Sunday after she was riding around on her Razor scooter - or any other immediate family member of the little girl came to court.
The teen's public defender, Larry Biggam, spoke briefly to reporters, but didn't offer any insight into the case.
"I think you in the media know more about this case than we do in the public defender's office," he said. "Our job is to review the evidence, conduct our own investigation and make sure that the minor, like every citizen accused, receives a fair trial. At the end of the day, I'm confident this case will be handled professionally and thoroughly and fairly."
Gonzalez is also being represented by Leila Sayer of Biggam, Christensen and Minsloff.
Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Timony Volkmann ordered Gonzalez to re-appear in court on Sept. 21.
Santa Cruz County District Attorney Jeffrey Rosell on Wednesday formally charged the teen as an adult with murder, rape, and other sexual assault-related offenses. If found guilty of all counts, he faces a maximum of life in prison. Outside court, Rosell told reporters: "We filed charges that we feel are appropriate and are confident in our case."
Police said that Gonzalez lured Maddy into his apartment on Sunday afternoon, sexually assaulted her, killed her, and dumped her body in a recycling bin on the apartment complex property. The two knew each other from living at the same apartment complex, Tannery Arts Center, an artist's haven.
A motive in the case has never been offered.
"People do things things for all sorts of reasons," Rosell said. "Sometimes we understand them and sometimes we don't."
Some neighbors who know the boy, however, said that he is a good person who comes from a loving family. Even the boyfriend of Maddy's mother, Kirby Scudder, told NBC Bay Area that Gonzalez is a "great kid."Others noted he was just the teen who always threw a yo-yo around.
But since the arrest, a darker side of Gonzalez has been portrayed. An Instagram feed of his that was taken down shortly after he was charged with murder, showed his last post on the day Maddy died of a black-and-white video showing a piano playing the 1982 "Mad World" Tears for Fears song, "The Dreams in which I'm Dying are the Best I've ever had." The song was also part of the soundtrack of "Donnie Darko," a film about a troubled teenager plagued by visions of a large rabbit that convinces him to create a series of crimes.
Katie Carole, a student at Santa Cruz High, came to court on Thursday because she said she was pretty close with the teen when they were in middle school together. And she noted that Gonzalez wasn't happy-go-lucky, even back then.
"He was definitely depressed," she said.
Still, the allegations against him are still quite surprising, she said.
"I would never think he would do something like this," she said. "He never seemed like the type of person who would hurt anyone else. You wouldn’t ever expect him to go after someone else, even if he had self hatred."
Still, she said, she doesn't know what to make of the charges against her former friend.
"There’s not much empathy you can have for him," she said. "But I can feel empathy for the person I knew."
KSBW's Phil Gomez contributed to this report.