Monday, January 3, 2011
Not a moment passes in the Gonzalez household in National City without a candle burning before a large photograph of a smiling Diana Gonzalez. Her husband, Armando Gabriel Perez, is accused of stabbing the San Diego City College student to death last October. Perez remains in hiding. Her parents say they will have no peace without the capture of their daughter's killer.
Diana's 1-year-old daughter, Chrystal, scamped around her mother's picture.
"Mama, mama, mama…" Chrystal said.
"She just looks at the picture," said Diana's older sister Janette Gonzalez. "She just likes giving her kisses."
In the days after Diana's murder, the family said Chrystal would cry for her mother.
"Now she doesn't ask but just by looking at the picture, we can tell she knows she's not here," Janette said.
Diana's death has been shattering for her family. Her parents, their two teenage sons and Chrystal have moved in with Diana's older sister Janette and her family with the hope that the solace of extended family might ease the pain. Diana's mother, Concepcion Carranza, says she's still grasping the magnitude of her loss.
"Sometimes I feel said, definitely not happy," Concepcion said. "There are days in which I feel very badly as if my heart was literally crushed."
Diana's father, Jose Gonzalez, only offered a hard stare when asked how he's coping. He said his family's grief is compounded by what happened before his 37-year-old son-in-law allegedly killed his 19-year-old daughter.
"They've made a mistake in not investigating the crime in depth," Jose said. "And they've recognized they made a mistake."
Diana was murdered just two weeks after she told police her estranged husband held her captive for three days during which he allegedly choked and raped her. Janette Gonzalez says Diana finally convinced Perez to return her to her parents' home by promising to reconcile. But as soon as she walked in the house, Janette said Diana barricaded herself in her bedroom. Her mother shooed Perez away, Janette said, and then Diana called the police to file a report.
"She did it right away," Janette said. "She was so sure about what she was doing."
Diana told police Perez had battered her 20 other times. Perez was arrested but released when the district attorney's office declined to prosecute. Janette said that news frightened Diana.
"She had that fear," Janette said. "She was scared. She knew that something else probably could happen to her."
San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said the case wasn't filed because there was not proof beyond a reasonable doubt. She won't say what evidence was lacking, nor has she told the family.
San Diego City Attorney Jan Goldsmith did not want to comment on the DA's decision. But he did offer an opinion on Diana's efforts to protect herself - a temporary restraining order against her husband.
"Everybody involved in the criminal justice system knows...I knew it as a judge...that that piece of paper does not guarantee protection from somebody who wants to hurt you," Goldsmith said.
The city attorney said Diana should have moved into a shelter for domestic violence victims. After Perez was released, Diana's parents escorted her everywhere including to her classes at San Diego City College. Diana's parents and daughter were waiting in the campus parking lot the night her body was found inside a restroom at the college.
Family members said Diana was taking classes to become a nurse. She wanted financial independence so she could leave her husband and continue to raise her daughter. Her sister said Diana's parents supported her decision to leave Perez.
"He was just too old," Janette said. "My sister was young. She was pretty. We just didn't trust him."
Family members said they are now putting their trust in the very same people they believe let them down by not prosecuting Perez for earlier abuse.
District Attorney Dumanis said in a statement, "All of us in law enforcement are committed to bringing Diana's murderer to justice."
Diana's mother, Concepcion, said she will continue to decline Dumanis's invitation to meet with her until that happens.