LAWRENCE - The first of five men charged with the "minivan murder" of Robert Gonzalez in 2009 was acquitted this afternoon.
A jury found Thomas Castro, 30, of Lawrence, not guilty of first degree murder, which carries a penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The verdict was announced at 2:40 p.m. in Lawrence Superior Court.
Castro was charged with killing Gonzalez in a joint venture with others on Jan. 10, 2009.
Prosecutor Jean Curran said Gonzalez was killed after a group gathered at 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 tooth, Curran said.
Police said Gonzalez was initially driving a minivan found at 486 Haverhill St. that evening. But he dove into the passenger seat, 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.
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