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Man pleads guilty as juvenile to murder of Santa Cruz girl

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (AP) — A 21-year-old California man pleaded guilty under juvenile justice terms to the murder of a neighbor girl in 2015.

Adrian Gonzalez entered the plea Tuesday in Santa Cruz as soon as the case was transferred to juvenile court, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported.

Gonzalez was 15 at the time 8-year-old Madyson “Maddy” Middleton was killed.

Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge John Salazar said he had no choice but to remove the case from the adult court system due to juvenile justice reforms, the Sentinel reported.

In adult court, Gonzalez could have faced two consecutive life prison sentences for murder, kidnapping, sexual penetration, two counts of lewd and lascivious behavior and intercourse with a minor, plus misdemeanor destruction of evidence.

In the juvenile system, Gonzalez will be eligible for release at age 25.

“The issue has always been, would Adrian, who was 15 at the time of the crime, receive treatment in an age-appropriate facility or pure punishment in an adult prison,” said defense attorney Larry Biggam.

The state plans to stop admissions to youth facilities before July as it moves to end the program by 2023, the Sentinel reported.

Biggam said he expects Gonzalez to be admitted and if the facility closes before he ages out he could be sent back to the county for supervision.

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