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Judge halts move of body-in-lake case

Andres Gonzalez

A murder case against Andres Gonzalez Jr. is now in limbo.

On Thursday, Noble Superior Judge Robert Kirsch granted Noble County Prosecutor Steve Clouse’s request for a stay of an order transferring the case to Allen County.

Clouse has until May 9 to file a motion for an interlocutory appeal in the case – meaning he will ask the state’s appellate court to rule on this issue while the case is going on.

In his ruling, Kirsch expressed “great concern” about the seriousness of the charge and how any delay in the case might affect the prosecution of the case against Gonzalez, who remains in jail, held without bail, according to court documents.

On Wednesday, Kirsch granted a request by Noble County Chief Public Defender James Abbs to move the case from Noble County to Allen County because that was where court documents filed in the case allege the crime occurred.

Gonzalez, 35, is charged with murder and removing the body from the scene of a violent or suspicious death.

His brother, Victor Gonzalez, 32, is charged with removing the body from the scene of a violent or suspicious death, accused of helping his older brother transport what they believed was the dead body of 36-year-old Erin R. Justin from a Fort Wayne garage in the 3300 block of Holton Avenue to a Noble County lake in summer 2011.

Justin’s body was found in rural Bartley Lake in July 2011, about a month after she was last seen in Fort Wayne. She had been tied to a concrete block before she was dumped in the water, and there were drugs in her system.

But an autopsy was inconclusive as to the cause and manner of death, and investigators were unable to determine where she died.

According to court documents filed in March, Andres Gonzalez told investigators he picked Justin up as she walked along Bluffton Road around 10 p.m. one night in June 2011. He said he took her to the garage, where he physically attacked her and when she became unresponsive, he thought she was dead.

Victor Gonzalez told investigators his brother called him to help him move the body, and when he arrived at the garage, she was covered in plastic and cardboard and starting to smell, according to court documents.

Clouse charged the pair in March in Noble Superior Court. Under Indiana law, a murder case can be filed in the county where a body is discovered.

But Abbs argued in a motion to dismiss and a motion to transfer that the state constitution provides defendants with the right to have their cases heard in the county where the crime occurred. Since all the documents and statements by witnesses alleged Justin was killed in Allen County, the case should be transferred there, Abbs argued.

After hearing arguments earlier this week, Kirsch granted his request.

On Thursday morning, Clouse filed a motion to delay action on Kirsch’s ruling to give him time to allow the Indiana Court of Appeals to consider the matter.