WESTMORELAND – A man’s intentions on the night he killed his friend were at the center of the jury’s deliberations on Thursday in Pottawatomie County District Court.
The jurors left Judge Jeff Elder’s courtroom at 9:50 a.m. Almost four hours later, they returned with their verdict:
They found Pablo Gonzalez, 22, guilty of unintentional second-degree murder for the death of Levi Bishop, 24, of Rossville. Bishop died from a gunshot wound to the neck on Jan. 1 while he was riding around St. Marys in Gonzalez’s car.
Gonzalez, of St. Marys, was found not guilty of aggravated assault, a charge connected to an alleged report that he pointed the gun at another man’s head earlier that morning.
In his closing argument, defense attorney Ron Evans told jurors to use their common sense when considering the charges.
“Sometimes, there’s no reason but an accident,” he said.
Jurors had the option of convicting Gonzalez of intentional second-degree murder, unintentional second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter or finding him not guilty.
“I would ask you to make a verdict consistent with the fact that Pablo didn’t intend to kill Levi,” Evans said.
Evans argued no evidence suggested Gonzalez was mad or had been arguing with Bishop, who Gonzalez himself on Wednesday said was his close friend.
Gonzalez had been dating Bishop’s sister at the time of the incident.
Evans asked the jury to consider how Gonzalez’s actions that night were working out for him.
The relationship he had with Bishop’s sister probably isn’t going anywhere now, Evans said. Gonzalez also is going to face prison time. He’s already been confined in the Pottawatomie County Jail since the shooting.
“He has to live with the fact that his actions caused a young man to die,” Evans said.
The shooting occurred somewhere between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. on New Year’s Day. Gonzalez, Bishop and two other young men, who were passed out in the backseat, were driving around St. Marys, looking for another party to ring in the New Year.
They had all been drinking heavily.
During her closing remarks, Pottawatomie County Attorney Sherrie Schuck argued that Gonzalez did intentionally kill Bishop. She mentioned Bishop’s autopsy, which showed the gun had touched his neck when it fired.
“You cannot put a loaded gun against a person’s neck and pull the trigger and not expect them to die,” she said.
Gonzalez had testified on Thursday that he had put the gun to his own head, thinking it wasn’t loaded. Bishop told him not to, he said, but he turned the gun on Bishop, saying it wasn’t loaded. Then, he pulled the trigger.
“There’s just no way he could not have known that gun was loaded,” Schuck said, reminding the jury that Gonzalez is familiar with firearms.
After he shot Bishop, Gonzalez drove to the St. Marys Police Department, which Evans said was the “quickest place he could think of to get help.”
The officer at the department described Gonzalez as hysterical.
“If he intended this result, why would he have that reaction?” Evans asked the jury.
Evans also argued that Gonzalez putting the gun to his own head should suggest the shooting was unintentional.
“It only fits the facts,” Evans said. “He did what he did because he didn’t think the gun was going to shoot.”
As for the aggravated assault charge, Evans said the actions of the man accusing Gonzalez, Andrew Schindler, suggest Gonzalez’s innocence when common sense is applied.
Schindler testified in court on Tuesday that Gonzalez drove up to his house in St. Marys at about 4:30 a.m. Jan. 1, sometime before Bishop was shot. Schindler said Gonzalez had wanted cigarettes, but that he had also pointed the gun near his head.
Evans said Schindler didn’t react the way most would if a gun was put to their head, suggesting that Gonzalez didn’t do what Schindler claimed.
“He gets the cigarettes and he goes back out and gave the cigarettes to (Gonzalez),” Evans said.
Schindler didn’t tell the police about the incident until after learning Bishop had been shot.
Judge Elder scheduled Gonzalez to be sentenced for the second-degree murder conviction on Sept. 25.