JURY ACQUITS MAN IN SUPERMARKET HOLDUPS

Published June 22, 1996 by Rebecca Taylor, Bee Staff Writer

Authorities said Dorteo Gonzales Jr. was a violent supermarket holdup man. So why didn't the crimes stop when he was arrested in January?

And how could shell casings found at the scene of a grocery store stickup in Ceres -- where Gonzales was charged with attempted murder and robbery -- match those found at the scene of a Los Banos robbery last March, while Gonzales was already behind bars?

Was it simply his holdup crew continuing their robbery stints without Gonzales, as authorities contend?

Or was he innocent?

After less than two hours of deliberation, a Stanislaus County Superior Court jury Friday morning acquitted Gonzales on all criminal counts, including attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, armed robbery and firearms charges.

"I think there was never enough evidence to even bring my client to trial," defense attorney Robert Forkner said after the verdict.

Authorities arrested the 26-year-old Gonzales in January, speculating that he was a prime suspect in a string of violent grocery store robberies throughout the Central Valley.

But he was only charged with two stickups: one on Christmas Eve at the Richland Market in Ceres and another at Sam's Food City in Modesto on New Year's Eve.Gonzales maintained he was spending time with his family both of those holiday nights and took no part in a holdup.

But six eyewitnesses testified otherwise.

"That's the best evidence we're ever going to have in a criminal case," prosecutor Doug Maner had argued during closing arguments late Thursday afternoon.

"When you get six witnesses who all tell you ... unequivocably "this is the guy' ... that's 100 percent (proof)."

But Forkner countered with accusations of lazy police work.

"They (stickups) continued once my client was arrested, and law enforcement made no effort to look into these other cases as being related until the defense comes forward with these matching shell casings," he said Friday.

The .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.

But Maner unsuccessfully countered that Gonzales' arrest wouldn't have precluded members of his alleged holdup crew from committing crimes, and using his weapon.

"Do you think this gang of crooks stopped once the defendant was arrested?" Maner asked. "They didn't stop when Dorteo got arrested. They kept going."

Meanwhile, agents from the Department of Justice are continuing to investigate a series of 17 supermarket stickups from Tulare to Sacramento. So far no arrests have been made.