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A dark portrait emerges of the teen accused of killing Maddy Middleton

A troubling portrait is beginning to emerge of the 15-year-old boy charged as an adult with murder in the death of 8-year-old Madyson “Maddy” Middleton in Santa Cruz.

Appearing before a Santa Cruz judge for the first time since his arrest earlier in the week, Adrian Jerry Gonzalez, who wore a green T-shirt, shuffled into a courtroom Thursday with his hands cuffed in front of him. The teen did not enter a plea because his hearing was postponed to Sept. 21.

“Our job is to review the evidence and conduct our own investigation and make sure that the minor, like every citizen accused, receives a fair trial,” Gonzalez’s attorney, Larry Biggam, told reporters outside the courtroom. “At the end of the day, I am confident that this case will be handled professionally and thoroughly and fairly.”

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In addition to the murder charge, Gonzalez has been charged with one count of kidnapping and four sexual assault-related offenses, Dist. Atty. Jeffrey Rosell said. If convicted, Gonzalez faces life in prison, he said. The Santa Cruz teen is not eligible for life without parole or the death penalty because he is a minor.

“This case is extremely tragic and devastating to two families, the Tannery Arts Center and many more,” Gonzalez’s attorney said.

Gonzalez was a familiar face at the apartment complex where Maddy was killed. Some described the teen with slicked black hair as a quiet, friendly boy known for performing yo-yo tricks. Neighbors say he was seen around town on his skateboard.

“He was a lovely boy. As far as I know, he is a lovely boy,” Tannery Arts Center resident Yasmina Porter said after his arrest. “I think there is something horribly wrong if he did this. And I hope that he gets help. I hope he doesn’t go to jail for the rest of his life. I hope he gets help.”

Gonzalez, she said, was friends with many other neighborhood children, adding, “Everybody knew him.”

But his Instagram account was decidedly darker. In one post on Sunday — the day Maddy disappeared — Gonzalez plays the music from thriller flick “Donnie Darko,” captioned with the lyrics, “The Dreams in which I’m Dying are the Best I’ve ever had” from Gary Jules’ haunting cover of the Tears for Fears song “Mad World.”

Rosell said a motive for Maddy’s killing remains unclear.

“People do things for lots of different reasons,” Rosell said. “Sometimes we understand them, sometimes we don’t.”

In deciding whether to charge Gonzalez as an adult, prosecutors looked at his age, his criminal record, the nature of the crime and how the offense was committed, Rosell said. He declined to say whether Gonzalez had a criminal history.

“We are confident in the charges we filed,” he said. ”Justice demands the charges that we filed, and we filed them appropriately.”

Santa Cruz police Chief Kevin Vogel said the teen lured Maddy to his family’s apartment, where they were alone, and killed her. He then carried her body downstairs to a garage and hid it in a recycling bin, the chief said.

According to documents, Maddy was sexually assaulted and tied up. Gonzalez used a weapon during the attack, according to the criminal complaint.

Police believe Maddy had been killed before they started searching for her Sunday evening.

Maddy was last seen about 5:05 p.m. Sunday on surveillance video that captured her riding her scooter in the sprawling Tannery Arts Center on River Street. She and Gonzalez both lived at the center, a mixed-used creative space providing affordable housing to artists.

Her disappearance prompted a frantic search, and FBI investigators went door to door looking for clues. The massive manhunt drew volunteers from among the dozens of artists who live in the housing complex.

A little more than 24 hours after she disappeared, at 7:55 p.m. Monday, a Santa Cruz police detective discovered Maddy’s body at the bottom of the recycling bin, which already had been searched by volunteers.

Investigators saw Gonzalez standing near the bin, Vogel said, and police believe he was watching them as they searched.

The teen was detained and later arrested. Police said they have evidence tying him directly to Maddy.

Police believe Maddy willingly went to Gonzalez’s apartment because she trusted him. Gonzalez was known around the eight-acre complex. He volunteered at Camp Tannery Arts, which connected students with experienced artists. He is seen in photographs showing his yo-yo tricks.

The Santa Cruz High School student, who would have been a sophomore this fall, lived with his mother, whom neighbors described as friendly. Porter said Gonzalez’s mother often would make large amounts of food and would invite neighbors to her apartment during the holidays.

Maddy’s death has left residents in the tight-knit community devastated, some saying they were shocked to learn another resident was suspected in the killing.

Singer Nick Gallant wrote “Maddy’s Song” after her death, hoping to bring peace to her family.

Gonzalez’s Instagram account has been taken down. But reporters who reviewed the account before it was removed said it included posts in which he talked about being lonely, anxious and unloved.

In a screenshot of a photograph on his Instagram, Gonzalez wrote, “wears all black to try and look powerful and hide the crippling anxiety, towards the future and constant worry that I’ll never find someone who loves me.”

For breaking news in California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA.

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