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Noble prosecutor appeals venue ruling in murder case

A. Gonzalez

Noble County Prosecutor Steve Clouse wants a higher court to review a judge’s recent decision in a pending murder case.

Filed Friday, the motion for an interlocutory appeal asks the state’s appellate court to decide whether the case against Andres Gonzalez Jr. remains in Noble County or gets transferred to Allen County, as Gonzalez’s defense attorney requested.

An interlocutory appeal is filed while the case is pending – in this case, still in its beginning stages.

In March, Clouse charged Gonzalez, 35, and his brother Victor Gonzalez, 32, both of Fort Wayne, in the 2011 death of 36-year-old Erin R. Justin.

Andres Gonzalez is charged with murder and removing the body from the scene of a violent or suspicious death. Victor Gonzalez is charged with assisting a criminal and removing the body from the scene of a violent or suspicious death.

In July 2011, about a month after she was last seen, Justin’s body was pulled from a rural Noble County lake 30 miles from the Fort Wayne motel where she was last seen. She had been tied to a concrete block before she was dumped in the water. There were drugs in her system.

But an autopsy was inconclusive as to the cause and manner of death, and investigators were unable to determine where she died.

Nothing happened for more than two years after the discovery of Justin’s body until law enforcement received a tip in March. Soon after, the Gonzalez brothers were charged in Noble County.

According to court documents filed in March, Andres Gonzalez told investigators he picked up Justin as she walked along Bluffton Road one night in June 2011. He said he took her to the garage where he physically attacked her, and when she became unresponsive, he thought she was dead.

Victor Gonzalez told investigators that his brother called him to help move the body, and when he arrived at the garage, she was covered in plastic and cardboard and starting to smell.

Shortly after the charges were filed, Andres Gonzalez’s attorney, Noble County Chief Public Defender James Abbs, asked Noble Superior Court Judge Robert Kirsch to either dismiss the case or order it transferred to Allen County. He argued there was no evidence the crime occurred in Noble County, and his client had a constitutional right have the case heard where the crime was committed.

Prosecutors argued that a murder case could be argued where the body was discovered, meaning the case could stay in Noble County.

Kirsch granted the defense request a few weeks later, however, and ordered the case transferred to Allen County.

Clouse then asked for the judge to hold off on enforcing his order to allow him to decide whether to appeal the ruling.

Kirsch then ruled in Clouse’s favor, granting a stay in the case but giving prosecutors until Friday to file a request for an appeal, which Clouse did.

The appellate court will now have to decide whether to take the case.