Teen accused of killing 8-year-old girl pleads not guilty

SANTA CRUZ, Calif, -- The devastated father of a murdered 8-year old girl from Santa Cruz held a rally Monday morning as the teenager accused of killing his daughter entered a plea in court.

As lawyers fought over the fate of the 15-year-old suspect, Maddy Middleton's family gathered to honor her memory and set the tone for the upcoming trial. Bumper stickers were handed out at the rally that say "Always Remember Madyson." That's the message her father was sending as her accused killer was in court.

The defense attorney for Adrian Gonzalez entered a not-guilty plea for the 15-year-old, nearly two months after he was arrested for the murder, kidnapping and sexual assault of 8-year-old Maddy Middleton in Santa Cruz.

Several people, including her grandparents, held signs with her picture and the messages, "love you" and "sweet angel."

While many are angry about her death, her father says he has forgiven Maddy's accused killer. He stayed outside during the court hearing.

"It doesn't do anything for me. It doesn't change anything. It doesn't give me any satisfaction. I would rather have been out here for Madyson and that's what was important for me," said Michael Middleton, Maddy's father.

"This incident has resulted in the tragic loss of two kids from our community. As charged, our 15-year-old client finds himself in adult court without the benefit of a fitness hearing," said defense attorney Leila Sayar.

Gonzalez's court-appointed attorney says she wants a fitness hearing in front of a neutral judge to determine if her client should be in adult or juvenile court. Santa Cruz County District Attorney Jeff Rozell says they are following the law and will of the California voters in proceeding with the case in adult court.

The next hearing for Gonzalez will take place October 29. He faces life in prison if convicted.

Three GoFundMe pages have been set up to help family members.

PHOTOS: Police make grim discovery in search for Santa Cruz girl

Click here for full coverage on the disappearance and death of Maddy Middleton.

Police say Gonzalez lured Madyson into his family's apartment. An autopsy shows that she died of asphyxiation and stab wounds to the neck. He's also accused of sexually assaulting the girl.

Both of them lived at the Tannery Arts Center, a housing complex for artists and their families in the beach town of Santa Cruz.

Police twice conducted a door-to-door search of the entire apartment complex, as well as a homeless shelter across the street. Helicopters scanned the forest and the coastline, and the Coast Guard surveyed the ocean 2 miles from where she was last seen.

The death hit the laid-back surfing destination hard. Flags were lowered to half-staff and hand-written signs popped up in storefronts and on light posts in honor of the girl.

At an event for Madyson, her mother, Laura Jordan, hugged Gonzalez's mother and said she doesn't fault her for Madyson's death.

Jordan said her daughter was energetic and active. She loved to dance, run and play. She also loved animals, especially wolves.

Public defender Larry Biggam told reporters at Gonzalez's first court appearance that his job is to "review the evidence, conduct our own investigation and make sure that the minor, like every citizen accused, receives a fair trial."

Gonzalez was ordered to re-appear in court on Oct. 29.

If found guilty of all counts, he faces a maximum of life in prison.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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