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Girlfriend of New London homicide victim testifies at murder trial

By Karen Florin

Publication: theday.com

Published September 24. 2013 2:00PM   Updated September 24. 2013 11:41PM

Gabriela Gonzalez, who was just 18 when her boyfriend was fatally shot in their bed two years ago, endured a rigorous cross-examination by the attorney for murder defendant Evan J. Holmes Tuesday but remained resolute about what she witnessed on Nov. 12, 2011.

Holmes, 22, of New London, is accused of forcing his way into the third-floor apartment at 252 Montauk Ave. in New London and killing 25-year-old Jorge Rosa. Gonzalez is a key witness in the state's case against Holmes, who is charged with murder, felony murder, home invasion, first-degree burglary and criminal possession of a firearm by a previously convicted felon.

Gonzalez, who broke up with Holmes months before the shooting and started dating Rosa, testified for about three hours on the second day of Holmes' trial in New London Superior Court. She appeared to avoid looking at Holmes, though prosecutor Paul J. Narducci gestured toward him at the defense table while posing his final question.

"As you sit here today, is there any doubt in your mind that Mr. Holmes is the one who shot Mr. Rosa?" Narducci asked.

"There's no doubt in my mind," Gonzalez responded.

She had described being awakened by voices and seeing her ex-boyfriend and his close friend Davion Smith standing at the foot of the bed with guns pointed at her and Rosa. Smith's case is pending in the same courthouse.

"It felt like a dream," Gonzalez testified. "I didn't want to believe it was happening."

Holmes asked Rosa "who he was" before shooting him two or three times, Gonzalez testified. Smith walked out of the room and Holmes turned the gun on her, she said.

"He kind of like shook his head and walked out," Gonzalez testified.

Holmes had been released from prison just nine days before he allegedly shot and killed Rosa.

The now 20-year-old Gonzalez, who has borne another man's child and earned her high school diploma since the shooting, said she met Holmes when she was 14 and dated him off and on, breaking up with him for good in 2010 when he was incarcerated for an unrelated shooting. She said she started dating Rosa a few months before he died and spent nearly all her time with him, though she "technically" still lived nearby with her mother.

Gonzalez testified that she and Rosa picked up a friend, Ryan Johnson, that evening and that they returned to the apartment, where they hung out until Rosa, then she, migrated into their bedroom overlooking the street. Johnson departed after telling her he had arranged for a ride, she testified. She said she fell asleep at about 3:30 a.m. while watching "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" starring Jim Carrey.

Both she and Rosa sat up after being awakened by the voices, she said. Rosa either fell off the bed or moved himself to the floor after he was shot, Gonzalez testified, and he told her to call 911. Members of Rosa's family broke down in the audience while hearing the details of his last moments and the sound of him coughing in the background of the 911 recording that the state played for the jury.

Rosa was alive for several minutes after the shooting, but was pronounced dead at the scene, according to earlier testimony. He died of multiple gunshot wounds.

During cross-examinaton, defense attorney William T. Koch Jr. introduced letters that Gonzalez sent to Holmes while he was incarcerated, including an expletive-laden one in which she referred to herself as "Mrs. Holmes" and said she would kill any other woman who "tries to hold down that title."

"That wasn't serious?" Koch asked. "No," Gonzalez responded.

She said she broke up with Holmes, against whom she had once obtained a restraining order, through the mail. But she admitted a friend asked Holmes if he wanted to see Gonzalez after he was released from prison. She said Holmes declined and she decided "that was that."

She said that two days before the shooting, she saw Holmes and her close friend Shanice Sebastian outside a Providence club but did not speak to them. Sebastian was with Holmes at an Old Saybrook hotel when he was captured by police several hours after the shooting, according to the state.

Gonzalez initially told a dispatcher and a patrolman that she didn't know who had shot Rosa. Former New London patrolman Benjamin Burbank, who now works as a Ledyard police officer, testified that Gonzalez broke down at the crime scene and identified Holmes and Smith as the gunmen when Burbank told her Rosa's wounds — one of them in the groin area — looked "personal" and that Rosa might not be able to speak for himself.

Though Gonzalez said Rosa appeared to be too injured to stand up after the shooting, Burbank testified that when he arrived at the crime scene, he saw a person who looked like Rosa in the third-floor window. The person appeared to be groggy, "not knowing what was going on," Burbank testified. He admitted under cross-examination that he had not included the sighting in his report of the incident.

k.florin@theday.com

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