Tale of redemption: Weed man serving 18 year sentence will be released 10 years early

Bill Choy
Siskiyou Daily News
Sundance Angel Gonzalez and his parents, Renee Getreu and Leonardo Gonzalez, during a visit to prison in 2019.

The story of Sundance Angel Gonzalez of Weed is one of redemption, second chances, and turning one's life around. It is an ongoing story, but one with a bright ray of light after much darkness that could have sent the 26-year-old spiraling further down the wrong path. Instead, Sundance – known as Sonny – owned up to his mistakes and went to work to become a better human being.    

When he was 18, Gonzalez was involved in a armed burglary in Mount Shasta along with two others. For his crimes, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison. But due to exemplary behavior, in a rare decision on April 20, Gonzalez was granted early release with the full support of the Siskiyou County District Attorney’s Office. The decision came after a glowing recommendation by the State of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.    

“I’m overjoyed,” said Gonzalez's mother, Renee Getreu, who lives in south Siskiyou County. “I’m so grateful.”   

“It's a very unusual circumstance,” said Siskiyou County District Attorney Kirk Andrus about Gonzalez's sentence being shortened by 10 years. “It is something that rarely ever happens.”    

Andrus said Gonzalez will be released from where he's currently incarcerated at Avenal State Prison, near Coalinga, as soon as his court paperwork is processed and forwarded to the prison system.   

Sundance Angel Gonzalez.

Getreu said it would be "a wonderful gift” if she could see her only son before Mother’s Day this Sunday.   

Given the nature of Gonzalez's crimes, his original sentence of 18 years "was appropriate," said Andrus.

“The purpose of such a sentence can be summed up as punishment for bad behavior, rehabilitation, and deterrence of future crime,” he said. “However, what we all hope to see is that somebody will change and grow. In the end, we are trying to solve problems. By all evidence it appears that this problem had been solved as it relates to Mr. Gonzalez. In this case he has earned redemption – something we absolutely want to support, encourage and reward.”    

Gonzalez pleads guilty in home invasion case

Siskiyou County Assistant Public Defender Andy Marx, Gonzalez's attorney in the original case in 2013 and 2014, also represented him at the April 20 hearing. He said this was the first time something like this happened with one of his clients as a public defender. To see Gonzalez turn his life around is a rewarding and positive way to end his time as a public defender, he said. Marx retired last month.  

“It’s a great story of human resilience. It’s just nice to be part of something like this,” Marx said. ”He did a great job of bettering himself while in prison.”    

The crime    

On Feb. 6, 2013, what Andrus called a "fateful, ill-guided decision" changed several lives.

Around 8 p.m., three men, including Gonzalez, forced their way into an apartment in Mount Shasta and robbed a couple at gunpoint.    

Andrus said the victim responded to his doorbell but couldn’t see anyone through the peep hole, so he went into the hallway. Three men, dressed in dark clothing with their faces covered, rushed him and forced their way into the apartment, Andrus related. Two were armed with firearms, including a pistol and a shotgun.

The trio proceeded to steal cell phones, a laptop computer, a purse, and $120 in cash,

said Andrus. The victims were tied up and told that their families would be killed if the crime was reported. One intruder held his gun to the male victim's head and demanded money, then struck him over the head with the pistol, Andrus said.

After the ordeal, the victim went to Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta to get treatment for a scalp wound.    

Both victims recognized one of the intruders as Juan Vidano, said Andrus. Another was recognized as Gonzalez when his face covering fell during the initial struggle at the door. At around 8 a.m. the next morning, Vidano and Gonzalez were apprehended by law enforcement after a standoff. They were hiding in the attic at Vidano’s brother’s Chestnut Street home in Mount Shasta.   

On Oct. 30, 2013 Gonzalez admitted in court to home invasion robbery with the use of a firearm causing great bodily injury. He also admitted to possession of a short-barreled shotgun, metal knuckles, a billy club, and a large-capacity magazine, and obliterating firearm identification and conspiracy.    

Prison time for two home invasion suspects

At his sentencing, Sundance apologized for his actions.    

“I have no one to blame except myself,” he told the court. “No one forced me to get high. No one forced me to commit this crime. It was wrong and I’m ready to pay the price.”    

Andrus said that while Gonzalez was in the Siskiyou County Jail, he started down the road to changing his life. Gonzalez finished his high school equivalency and stated an intention to pursue a college education while in prison.

On Jan. 14, 2014, Gonzalez was sentenced to 18 years in state prison. Several weeks later, Vidano was sentenced to 20 years and 8 months in prison. The third assailant was convicted a short time later.    

“This crime of extreme violence shocked Mount Shasta,” Andrus said. “It was very unusual for this community and generated quite a bit of fear. Though the perpetrators were very young they had committed a very aggravated crime that required a very significant sentence.”    

'An exceptional inmate'

In the fall of 2020, the Siskiyou County DA’s office received a copy of a letter written from the State of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to the Siskiyou County Superior Court, recommending that Gonzalez be resentenced.    

“When we received the letter, Chief Deputy District Attorney John Quinn (who prosecuted the original case) and I saw that CDCR was very impressed with Gonzalez’s behavior while in custody," said Andrus. "We discussed whether to agree to a resentencing to some degree and reduce his prison sentence. Part of our analysis was an in-depth look at his record of incarceration. What we found was very unusual.”    

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Quinn contacted CDCR and spoke to prison administrators and officials, and conducted a review of the prison record. He found that Gonzalez's records showed a prisoner that was doing things the right way. This included:    

• No positive tests for controlled substances during random testing    

• No rules violations since he was incarcerated     

• No disciplinary actions    

• Gonzalez had disassociated and renounced any known gang members or affiliation    

• Received work supervisor reports as uniformly satisfactory to exceptional    

• Gonzalez participated in extensive self-help activities geared toward personal growth and maturity, educational and vocational goals, open communication, and programming discussions; and

• Completed the "Your New Life" program    

Andrus said the CDCR also pointed out that Gonzalez had "substantial family support" and was an "exceptional inmate."  

“Having reviewed countless CDCR prison records of inmates, I know how unusual it is to see absolutely no rules violations of counseling annotations, which can be very low-level behavior,” said Andrus. “We were getting the picture of an inmate who was truly in the top 1% in terms of motivation, behavior and desire to change.”    

In discussions between Andrus and Quinn, they determined this was a very unusual case and that it may be appropriate to urge a sentence reduction and agree to the release of Gonzalez.    

Before taking action to reduce a prison sentence, it is important to contact the victims and allow them to express their feelings on the action, Andrus said. In this case, both victims were contacted. He personally traveled out of the county to speak with the male victim. He said the man’s reaction to Gonzalez success in prison “was very charitable.”    

Andrus said he agreed that the main purpose of incarceration should be to improve and change, and that Gonzalez should be rewarded for his excellent work behind bars.  

 “I was very impressed with the victim’s mature and thoughtful approach to Gonzalez (and his) possible release,” Andrus said. “Under the circumstances, he was supportive of the sentence adjustment.”    

Sundance Angel Gonzalez with his mom, Renee Getreu, during a prison visit in July of 2018.

'It was powerful to be in the courtroom at that moment'

On April 20, the case was called in Siskiyou County Superior Court in Yreka. Gonzalez had not been transported from prison, but he was represented by Marx. Getreu was present in the courtroom.     

Andrus informed the judge, Joanne Bicego, of the investigation his office had conducted and that he had decided to join Marx in recommending  the court strike 10 years off Gonzalez's sentence, making him eligible for immediate release.

The judge agreed.   

"It was powerful to be in the courtroom for that moment,” said Getreu.  

When she called her son from the courthouse with the news that he'd soon be home, she said he couldn't believe it and asked his mom if this was a joke several times.

Andrus admitted he's been critical of California lawmakers, who "seem to work full-time to find ways to release people from prison rather than make prison a place that prepares inmates to be productive citizens when they are eventually released." In this situation, however, he is pleased with the outcome.    

“It is gratifying to see a young man committed to do just that – be law-abiding and productive,” Andrus said. 

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Many times, Marx said, people say they'll improve themselves, but sadly, things get worse in prison and they succumb to the pitfalls of being incarcerated. To see a client truly feel remorse and work toward becoming a better human being is something Marx said he's proud to have been a part of.

Marx said Gonzalez has a good network of family members and others who will help guide him once he is released. He believes he has a real shot to have a successful life outside prison a that he'll be a productive member of society.    

“I think he will make the most of his opportunity,” he said.   

An example of Sundance Angel Gonzalez's art – a card depicting an angel.

'Seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart'

Getreu and her son’s father, Leonardo Gonzalez, plan to drive to the prison to pick Sundance up and bring him back to Siskiyou County. Getreu said he has one more class, a math course, to complete to earn his AA degree. He could potentially move on to a four-year school, or find a job, or start his own business. She said he's weighing his options.    

“He’s worked so hard to do right and to improve his situation,” Getreu said.    

She said Gonzalez is ready to prove what he can do on the outside and continue on a positive path. 

An excellent artist, Gonzalez sold his work in prison, drawing portraits and making cards. Getreu said she loves how people appreciate his work, including a family that had him do a family portrait, inserting a family member that had passed away.

Gonzalez also learned skills in prison, including auto body repair work, which his mom said he can use as well to make a living. He also earned a leadership position in the kitchen on the inmate team.    

Getreu admitted having her son sent to prison for such a long time was something she had to grapple with over the years. “It was very hard at first for me, although I'm in a pretty good place right now,” she said.    

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The situation has been made tougher since she's been unable to visit him in person for more than a year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I miss him terribly,” she said about her only child.

Getreu added that the Bible has been a great comfort for her son, and reading it has helped him. She said one passage, in particular, struck a chord with him: Jeremiah 29:11-13.    

The passage reads, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”   

“I think having faith has been important for him,” Getreu said, adding that meditation has also helped Gonzalez get through his time in prison.

Once he's released, Gonzalez's journey will continue, but there is something important he has now when he looks at his life path.

Hope.