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Murder defendant battles over venue

Appeals court is asked to uphold transfer to Allen


Arguing that their client will suffer if the case winds its way through the appellate court, Andres Gonzalez’s court-appointed attorneys asked the state’s second-highest court not to take the case.

In early May, Noble County Prosecutor Steve Clouse gained Noble Superior Court Judge Robert Kirsch’s permission to ask the appellate court to review Kirsch’s decision to transfer the case to Allen County.

The 35-year-old Gonzalez faces charges of murder and removing a body from the scene of a violent and suspicious death in connection with the death of 36-year-old Erin R. Justin, who disappeared in Fort Wayne in June 2011.

After a grisly discovery by a fisherman, Justin’s body was pulled from a rural Noble County lake 30 miles from where she was last seen. Her body was weighed down by a concrete block and there were drugs in her system.

An autopsy was inconclusive as to both the cause and manner of Justin’s death, as well as to where her death occurred.

Also charged in the case is Andres Gonzalez’s 32-year-old brother, Victor Gonzalez. Along with a charge of removing a body from the scene of a violent and suspicious death, he is charged with assisting a criminal.

The case went cold for more than two years, until investigators received a tip in March. After interviews with the Gonzalez brothers, the two were charged in Noble County.

According to court documents, Victor Gonzalez said he was summoned by his brother to a Fort Wayne garage to help him dispose of a body. In the garage, he saw the body of a woman, wrapped in plastic.

Andres Gonzalez told police 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, according to court documents.

About a month after Andres Gonzalez was charged with the crime, Noble County Public Defender James Abbs asked 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 delay enforcing his order to allow Clouse to decide whether to appeal.

In the response to Clouse’s motion for an interlocutory appeal – one that is allowed while the case is still ongoing – Noble County Deputy Public Defender Kathryn Byrom argued continued delays in the case will greatly harm Andres Gonzalez, who remains in the Noble County jail.

She argued an appeal of the case is unnecessary at this time.

Under the rules of the Indiana judiciary, prisoners who are incarcerated on a charge are generally required to be brought to trial within six months unless their side has caused the delay or if the court’s calendar is congested. If the case continues too long without meeting certain conditions, the defendant is released on his or her own recognizance.