Murder trial of slain FDNY EMT delayed again
The long legal battle is taking a toll on Yadira Arroyo’s family, friends and co-workers
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — Justice long delayed in the brutal 2017 killing of a beloved FDNY emergency medical technician was deferred once more.
A Bronx judge ordered yet another in a long-running series of psychiatric exams for murder suspect Jose Gonzalez, represented at a Wednesday hearing by yet another new attorney as the fifth anniversary of EMT Yadira Arroyo’s death looms next month.
Though the oft-arrested Gonzalez, 30, was busted at the crime scene, his prosecution has languished despite more than 50 hearings across the 59 months since Arroyo’s killing — much to the outrage of her five sons, other family members and her fellow EMTs and paramedics.
“We’re just trying to stick it out to get the justice that she deserves,” said A.J. Hernandez, the slain EMT’s uncle who attended the court session. “All people have to do is say ‘I’m crazy.’ And then it gets so prolonged where people lose faith in the system. Not that we’ve lost faith.”
The change of counsel was expected to further slow the legal process.
Gonzalez, charged with murder, manslaughter and robbery, appeared for the hearing in an orange jailhouse jumpsuit and a hair net. Bronx Judge Ralph Fabrizio, who had no prior knowledge of the case, said his goal was to quickly reach a decision on the suspect’s mental health one way or the other.
“If Mr. Gonzalez is not fit to proceed, then he needs to go to a secure mental health facility,” said Fabrizio. “If he is, then we need to proceed. I’m just trying to expedite the exam and the hearing that needs to take place .... not sitting back and waiting another three months.”
Arroyo’s on-the-job slaying horrified the city and put her accused killer behind bars, with dueling mental health evaluations by experts for the prosecution and the defense attorneys finding him both fit and unfit to stand trial. Another report on Gonzalez’s sanity was expected next month.
The lengthy and frustrating legal battle since her March 16, 2017, death has taken its toll on Arroyo’s family, friends and co-workers.
“People are getting discouraged because nothing is being done,” said Local 2507 union head Oren Barzilay, who represents city fire inspectors, paramedics and FDNY EMTs. “It’s sending a bad message. The entire system has failed everybody.”
The suspect’s most recent exam was this past summer as the courtroom wrangling continued. In a prior 2019 hearing, prosecutor George Suminsky recounted phone conversations from jail where Gonzalez coherently indicated he was a fan of the movie “Black Panther” and told a friend he “could beat the case” by checking into a mental health facility.
But in an evaluation done the year before, Gonzalez claimed the “Illuminati” were involved in the killing of Arroyo. A previous defense lawyer also said the accused had a long history of drug abuse and was allegedly high when he killed the 14-year FDNY veteran.
“This case is old,” said Suminsky, back in court again at the Wednesday hearing. “We want to proceed.”
Gonzalez was charged with jumping behind the wheel of Arroyo’s ambulance and running down the popular and respected EMT. Arroyo was on overtime when she pulled her vehicle over after spotting Gonzalez riding on the back of her truck.
The unhinged Gonzalez jumped off the ambulance and attempted to steal a passing man’s backpack, with Arroyo stopping the vehicle and climbing out to see what was happening, police said. Gonzalez then hijacked the ambulance, throwing the vehicle in reverse and running the mother of five down before driving over her body a second time.
Gonzalez had a rap sheet of 31 prior arrests on the day when Arroyo was killed.
Defense lawyer Richard Barton, who only took over the case recently, asked for additional time to review all the court records and bring in a new psychiatrist for another mental health exam. But the attorney’s appeal for an extension fell on deaf ears among Arroyo’s supporters.
“It’s been five years, and we’ve been patiently waiting and there’s still no justice,” said paramedic Elizabeth Ferrin, a one-time colleague of Arroyo.
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