EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

April 30, 2013

FBI expert testifies in minivan murder trial

LAWRENCE – The surveillance camera attached to a home on Forest Street, captured a minivan in the street when Robert Gonzalez, 20, was murdered on Jan. 10, 2009. A state trooper later drove what’s believed to be the same minivan as detectives took their own pictures on the same street at the same camera angle.

Both sets of pictures were then sent to an FBI lab in Quantico, Va. where they were analyzed and compared for likeness by expert Peter J. Smith. Smith yesterday described to a jury how he created an “overlay” of both sets of pictures using specialized software.

Showing jurors how he could fade from one picture to the other, in his search for likenesses, Smith said he determined the minivans were “similar.”

“The vehicles are similar in size, style, light configuration and some trim work,” Smith testified as Thomas Castro’s first-degree murder trial continued in Lawrence Superior Court.

Castro, 30, of Lawrence, is the first of five people to go on trial for Gonzalez’s execution style murder in a minivan. Castro is accused of killing Gonzalez in a joint venture with others.

Police said Gonzalez was initially driving a minivan found a 486 Haverhill St. But he dove into the passenger seat that evening, trying to avoid two gunmen who opened fire on the vehicle. Gonzalez was unable to shield himself from the fatal spray of bullets and was later pronounced dead at Lawrence General Hospital.

A prosecutor said Gonzalez was killed after a group gathered a Broadway restaurant earlier that day, an argument erupted and another man Joel Javier, 27, lost a tooth. Gonzalez’s murder is believed to be revenge exacted over the loss of the tooth, prosecutor Jean Curran said in her opening statement.

Yesterday, Smith, a 24-year FBI civilian employee, was among the latest to testify in Castro’s trial, which opened last Wednesday and is expected to go to the jury for deliberations later this week.

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