Gonzales backs out


GREENFIELD — It took a few minutes for Katrina Miller’s family to process what happened.

Moments before the woman accused of orchestrating Miller’s slaying was set to be sentenced Wednesday afternoon, she withdrew the guilty plea she had entered in April on charges of kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder.

As the victim’s family sat, hoping to put the nightmare behind them, Amanda Gonzales decided she would rather go to trial.

Gonzales, 28, of Indianapolis, was to be the third person sentenced in the shooting death of Miller, who was found dead in a western Hancock County cornfield in July.

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Witnesses have testified that Gonzales arranged the shooting death of her romantic rival after finding her in a hotel room with Gonzales’ then-boyfriend.

Now, Gonzales’ defense attorney said those statements were false. In Hancock County Superior Court 1 on Wednesday, attorney Bob Beymer told Judge Terry Snow that a key witness in the state’s case against his client — Gonzales’ former boyfriend, Ronnie Westbrook — has recanted statements he made against Gonzales.

As a result, Beymer asked the judge to send the case to trial.

After giving prosecutors and the defense a chance to make arguments, Snow complied with the request: Gonzales will appear in court again for trial Aug. 3.

It happened fast and with little warning. Once the news settled in and it became apparent the Miller family’s heartache would have to continue, Miller’s sister, Chris Shelton of Indianapolis, broke down in tears.

“I can’t say I’m not disappointed,” she said. “I was ready for this to be done. It’s hard enough to get up in the morning as it is.”

Beymer told the court Westbrook is no longer standing by the story he told jurors during accused triggerman Joe Meyer’s trial last year.

Then, Westbrook testified that Meyers shot Miller, but it was Gonzales who orchestrated the plan out of jealousy.

Wednesday, Beymer said Westbrook now says Meyers threatened to kill Gonzales if she did not come along to the Hancock County cornfield where Miller was shot.

Westbrook said he and Gonzales left the scene together before Miller was killed, Beymer said.

If Gonzales had known Westbrook intended to change his story, she would not have entered into an agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty, Beymer said.

Prosecutor Brent Eaton called Westbrook’s alleged statements self-serving and pointed out the statements were made only after Westbrook was sentenced for his role in the crime.

He is now serving six years.

Eaton and deputy prosecutor John Keiffner argued that because Westbrook’s promise to recant his statements was not made under oath, not recorded or written in a signed document, it was unreliable.

They added that the state would face hardship and high costs to assemble witnesses and experts, some of whom live out of state, if a trial were to proceed.

Gonzales, Meyers and Westbrook were all charged with murder and kidnapping last July. Now that Gonzales has withdrawn her guilty plea to lesser charges, she could face the original counts filed against her.

Westbrook’s six-year sentence was part of an agreement with the prosecutor’s office.

Police said Westbrook was not at the scene of the crime but harbored those responsible for Miller’s death and withheld evidence about the slaying.

Westbrook was the state’s key witness when Meyers went to trial in November.

Meyers, who represented himself, was found guilty of murder and kidnapping and sentenced to 75 years in prison.

Westbrook testified during the proceedings that Meyers confided in him after shooting Miller. Westbrook said the idea was Gonzales’, but at the last minute, she couldn’t go through with the act.

Surveillance footage shows all four — the three suspects and Miller — getting into Meyers’ sport utility vehicle the morning Miller is believed to have been shot.

Westbrook, who was out on parole, was wearing a Department of Correction-issued ankle bracelet that tracked his movements at the time.

GPS data from the device suggests Westbrook was dropped off shortly before the shooting, then picked up as his co-defendants returned from the scene.

Surveillance footage from the same morning shows all three suspects returning without Miller to the Indianapolis motel where they all lived.

For Miller’s family, the delay in the proceedings Wednesday was just one of many disappointing setbacks.

Gonzales’ original trial date in late March was delayed when no jurors showed up to the Hancock County Courthouse, the result of a mailing error.

The trial was rescheduled for mid-April. After jury selection had taken place and the trial was about to begin, Gonzales made an agreement with the state: Eaton dropped the original charge of murder in exchange for Gonzales’ guilty plea to kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder.

He said at that time the new charges were more in line with Gonzales’ involvement in the murder, and prosecutors believed the deal was the best approach for their case and the victim’s family.

Now, Eaton said he will have to reconsider which charges the state will proceed with in August.

“We’re a little disappointed in how things turned out today,” he said.

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Amanda Gonzales withdrew her guilty plea Wednesday afternoon and now faces trial. She is scheduled to return for trial at 9 a.m. Aug. 3 in Hancock County Superior Court 1. The proceedings are open to the public.

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Amanda Gonzales was one of three suspects arrested in connection with the shooting death of Indianapolis resident Katrina Miller. Her two co-defendants have already been convicted.

Joe Meyers of Indianapolis, the accused triggerman, was convicted of murder and sentenced to 75 years in prison, a sentence that was enhanced by 15 years because of his lengthy criminal history.

Ronnie Westbrook of Indianapolis, an acquaintance of Miller’s who police say withheld evidence after Meyers confessed to the shooting, pleaded guilty to assisting a criminal in March. He was ordered to serve six years as part of a plea agreement with the Hancock County prosecutor.