EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

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April 25, 2013

First 'minivan murder' trial starts

LAWRENCE — Robert Gonzalez was allegedly among a group that gathered near a Broadway restaurant on a cold January morning more than three years ago. An argument ensued and one young man, Joel Javier, lost a tooth in the brawl, a prosecutor said yesterday.

By 6 p.m. that same night, Gonzalez, 20, of Lawrence, was shot to death — “revenge that was exacted over the loss of a tooth,” said Jean Curran, assistant district attorney, during her opening statement in Lawrence Superior Court yesterday morning.

Thomas Castro, 30, of Lawrence, is the first of five people to go on trial for the first degree murder of Gonzalez on Jan. 10, 2009. Castro is accused of killing Gonzalez in a joint venture with others, including Javier, 27, according to prosecutors.

Fourteen jurors, 7 men and 7 women, were selected to hear the murder trial. Judge Richard Welch explained the charge Castro faces does not necessarily mean that he shot and killed Gonzalez but “that the Commonwealth is claiming the defendant participated in the offense with others.”

Gonzalez was initially driving a minivan found at 486 Haverhill St. on Jan. 10, 2009. But police said he dove into the passenger’s seat that evening, desperately trying to avoid two “execution style” gunmen who opened fire on the vehicle that night. Gonzalez was unable to shield himself from the fatal spray of bullets and was later pronounced dead at Lawrence General Hospital.

A passenger who’d been in the minivan with Gonzalez provided police with details of the shooting.

In July 2011, five men, including Castro, were indicted by the Essex County Grand Jury for Gonzalez’s murder and a woman was charged with being an accessory after the fact. First degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Curran, in her opening statement, said Gonzalez had been riding around with a friend in a Dodge minivan that morning. They picked up two other young men, who had just left city nightclubs, and headed to the Big-N-Beefy, at 415 Broadway, a late-night restaurant where roast beef sandwiches are served, she said.

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