Published July 19, 1996 by Rebecca Taylor, Bee Staff Writer

The on-again, off-again suspect in a string of San Joaquin Valley holdups was released from custody Thursday after prosecutors found insufficient evidence to try him on multiple robbery charges.

Dorteo Gonzales, 27, of Ceres had faced four counts of armed robbery in connection with a stickup last December at Edmondson Property Management Co. in Atwater. Those counts were dismissed Thursday given a lack of evidence, according to Merced County Deputy District Attorney Dave Moranda.

Gonzales' lawyer expected the decision. "My client's not surprised at all that the charges were dismissed against him. He expected to be acquitted again at jury trial," Robert Forkner said.

That's what happened just last month when Gonzales stood trial in Stanislaus County on charges of robbing Richland Market in Ceres and Sam's Food City in Modesto. Despite six eyewitnesses, a jury acquitted Gonzales on all criminal counts after just a few hours of deliberation.

Forkner had argued successfully at that trial that Gonzales was innocent, noting that a .45-caliber shell casing found at a Ceres stickup where a store manager was shot and wounded matched those left at the scene of a Los Banos supermarket heist that occurred while Gonzales was already jailed.

When authorities initially arrested Gonzales in January, they speculated that he was a prime suspect in a string of violent holdups at grocery stores up and down the valley. But the robberies continued after his arrest, and a state Department of Justice task force is now investigating at least 17 such stickups from Sacramento to Tulare.

Gonzales' arrest in Merced County came less than two weeks after his acquittal in Stanislaus County.

Forkner said his client is considering filing lawsuits against law enforcement agencies in Stanislaus and Merced counties, claiming false arrest and vindictive prosecution.

"He was in jail for over two weeks for nothing," Forkner said, citing the time Gonzales spent in jail awaiting trial in Merced County.

"Given the dismissal, it confirms my client's suspicion that the police have a vendetta against him. ... At least Merced County had the good judgment not to waste taxpayer money and resources for a trial when he would have been acquitted."

Authorities have suggested that Gonzales is part of a group of robbers, and that other members of that group continued robbing stores while he was jailed.