Seven years after a college student was killed on campus, her killer faces sentencing — again

With all due respect to the judicial process — and the presumption of innocence — there was never really much of a question as to who killed Diana Gonzalez.

The 19-year-old’s body was found Oct. 12, 2010, in a restroom at San Diego City College, where she was taking classes. She had been stabbed multiple times all over her body, including four deep cuts to her neck.

And then there was that word that was carved into her back. A word that suggested that the perpetrator of this horrific crime did so not to rob her or otherwise seize the opportunity to take advantage of her in some way.

This was done in anger.

On Thursday, seven years after Gonzalez was killed, her estranged husband Armando Gabriel Perez, 44, will be sentenced in San Diego Superior Court, where a judge is expected to impose a prison term of life without the possibility of parole.

Members of Gonzalez’s family, who tried to protect her all those years ago from a man they knew was dangerous, will be asked to come to court again to see another judge make another order, sending Perez out of their lives (hopefully) for good.

Yes — another order. They’ve been down this road before.

More than two years ago, Perez was sentenced to prison after he admitted killing Gonzalez. He was serving as his own lawyer on the day his trial was set to begin, but instead of delivering his opening statement, he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.

“You are a bad man, a good-for-nothing,” Concepción Carranza, the victim’s mother, said in Spanish to her former son-in-law when he was sentenced in January 2015. “Because what you did to my daughter is not forgivable. She was an innocent woman. You know that very well…

“We will hate you for the rest of our lives.”

It might have ended there, but Perez’s conviction was overturned a year later when an appellate court determined that he should not have been allowed to plead guilty without a lawyer in a case in which he faced life without parole.

He was brought back to Superior Court, where his case went to trial, this time all the way through verdict.

Union-Tribune reporter Pauline Repard noted in her coverage that Perez said “thank you” to the jurors as they filed out of the courtroom after the verdicts were read.

They had deliberated about four hours before finding him guilty.

It’s difficult to imagine what Gonzalez’s family must be going through. While many families wait years for the criminal court process to run its course, and for the accused to be brought to justice, what this family has endured seems extraordinary.

Perez was identified as a “person of interest” almost immediately after the killing. (Gonzalez had filed for a temporary restraining order against him a month before her death, shortly after she told police he had kidnapped and choked her, holding her captive in motels for days. Perez was not charged in that incident.)

After Gonzalez’s death, police believed Perez — who had a daughter with Gonzalez — was likely in Mexico, where his blue Ford Mustang was found. He was arrested in Tijuana 16 months later.

At his first court appearance in August 2012, Perez shouted out in the courtroom, “I’m guilty!” But the law doesn’t allow defendants facing felony charges to plead guilty at arraignment. In addition to murder, he faced a special-circumstance allegation of lying in wait that made him eligible for the death penalty.

Then came years of watching as Perez challenged his court-appointed attorney, asked to serve as his own lawyer, entered a guilty plea and then asked later to withdraw it so he could plead not guilty by reason of insanity, a request that was denied.

After his murder conviction was overturned, he again asked to serve as his own lawyer. By the time he got to trial this year, he was represented by Barton Sheela III, from the Office of the Alternate Public Defender.

At that 2012 arraignment, Gonzalez’s cousin, Beatriz Luna, read a statement from the family.

“We have never wished death on anyone, but what does the person who leaves a 10-month-old baby without her mother deserve?” the statement read. “What does the person who snatches a 19-year-old daughter from her parents deserve?

“Death would be fair, but we have to leave that aspect of human life to its creator,” the statement continued. “What we do wish for this murderer is the maximum penalty, that he never sees the light of day again, just like Diana will never see it.”

On Thursday, the family may finally get that wish.

Twitter: @danalittlefield

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