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Palm Coast Friday, Oct. 19, 2018 3 weeks ago

Jury finds Jonathan Canales guilty in attempted murder of ex-fiancee

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Canales, 31, shot his then-fiancee on 2014, the jury found. He'd alleged that she'd shot herself while attempting suicide.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

A jury of four men and two women has found Jonathan Canales, 31, guilty of attempted first-degree murder with a firearm in the 2014 shooting of his then-fiancee. Canales was also found guilty of a lesser charge, aggravated battery with a firearm, for the same incident. The defense had argued that the victim had shot herself in an attempted suicide. 

The verdict followed two hours and 50 minutes of deliberation by the jury on Friday, Oct. 19. Canales faces life in prison and will be sentenced in November.

Over the preceding days — the trial began with jury selection on Monday, Oct. 15 — the prosecution had highlighted a series of conflicting statements by Canales, plus allegations by the victim, his then-fiancee, that he'd repeatedly threatened her — to make the case that he'd threatened her on Oct. 15, 2014, then shot her through the neck.

"There are so many ways to kill you. I could kill you and nobody would know," the victim said Canales told her shortly before shooting her.

Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark quoted those words to the jury in the opening day of arguments in Canales' trial for attempted murder Oct. 16. The prosecution detailed a history of controlling and menacing behavior by Canales: He'd threatened the victim over the course of years, controlled her behavior by monitoring her phone calls and social media postings, once threatened her with a gun, and had on multiple occasions attacked her physically, she said.

Then there were his conflicting statements about the sequence of events the night of the shooting.

"She shot herself in the head. … I just came home from work and she was bleeding all over the place," Canales first told a 911 dispatcher after, in the prosecution's telling, the victim found his phone and called police, and he then grabbed the phone away from her. "I didn’t do anything besides come home from work ... unlock the door … she had it right up against her head." He said he'd heard the gunshot, then walked inside and saw her.

But just minutes later, he'd say he saw her pull the trigger. In one instance, contradicting claims it happened right after he returned from work, he said he'd been out in a shed working on an all-terrain vehicle in the garage when it happened. In another instance, he said he'd been in another room in the trailer playing pool, came into the living room, saw her with the gun against her head, and tried to grab it away from her when it went off. In one version, she had the gun in her hand; in another, he said she pulled the trigger with her foot.

"Why so many versions? Because that's not what happened. He can't get his story straight," Clark said. "He's making it up as he goes along." 

When deputies arrived at the home, the victim was sitting on the front steps. Canales was a few feet behind her, half-in, half-out of the trailer, and not attempting to aid the victim, who was smeared with blood. 

QUESTIONING

The contradictions, and a series of odd statements by Canales, had continued when he was questioned by a Flagler County Sheriff's Office detective, Eric Glasgow.

Glasgow pointed out Canales' changing stories, then flatly asked Canales if he'd shot the victim. 

"If I was to shoot [her], I mean honestly, as an infantry soldier, do you think I would have used a .22 Remington when I have an M-4 laying right next to her?" Canales said in footage of the interrogation that Clark showed to the jury. "No, That’s not my weapon of choice." (The gun used was in fact a .22 caliber Mossberg, although a Remington was also in the house.)

And, he continued later, "This is terrible: If I was to shoot her, she wouldn’t be alive. Like, that’s terrible to say." He asked Glasgow if Glasgow really thought that Canales, with his military background, would have used only one shot.

Jonathan Canales, right, in court Oct. 19 with attorney Garry Wood. (Photo by Jonathan Simmons)

Glasgow told Canales there was much about his story that didn't make sense. 

"You know what, my whole life doesn’t make sense half the time," Canales said. 

Glasgow asked Canales if he could have been manipulating the weapon and inadvertently discharged a round.

"It could have happened that way," Canales said. "The only thing I’m trying say is I have no idea what the heck happened here. ... What I remember is 'pop,' I grab the f---ing weapon, I throw it on the f---ing floor. ... I start compressing her neck."

He also said — contradicting the victim's statement that she'd called 911 after she'd stumbled out of the bathtub, where she said he'd dumped her after shooting her — that he'd been the one to call 911, and that he'd handed her the phone. At one point in the 911 call, when Canales told the dispatched the victim had shot herself, the victim can be heard saying, "Stop lying."

Glasgow asked Canales if he knew what the victim would say had happened that night.

"She better tell the god---n truth," Canales said. "We’ve been having a serious problem all day today; she’s really had it out for me today."

Canales and the victim had argued, that day, according to the victim's account, and Canales had at one point earlier that evening locked her and her three young children, one of whom was also Cnaales' son, out of the trailer they shared in the Mondex. She'd sat outside for about an hour on that chilly November night knocking on the door and begging to be let in. At one point, he came to the door and told her she didn't live there anymore, and to go away.

That shooting, she'd said, happened after she'd fed the children, put them to bed and was in the kitchen eating leftover fried chicken. Canales, she said, had walked behind her, threatened her, and then she felt a ringing in her ears and fell to the ground.

At some point, he picked her up, lay her in the bathtub and began running the water, and left, before she stumbled out and found his phone to call 911. She didn't realize until afterward, in the hospital, that she'd been shot.

PHYSICAL EVIDENCE

Canales told the 911 dispatcher that the victim was "bleeding all over the kitchen." But when deputies arrived at the home, the kitchen and the bathroom — the two rooms the victim had been bleeding in — were mostly clear of blood, "because he cleaned it up," Clark said in her closing argument to the jury.

Chemical testing reveled the presence of likely blood spots that had been cleaned in the kitchen and bathroom, she said. Deputies found a bottle of hydrogen peroxide — which can be used to clean blood — sitting on the floor of the living room when they arrived.

Canales, when deputies arrived, had not a spot of blood on him. And his hair — visible in deputies' body camera video — was wet, as if he'd just showered.

Then there was the fact that when deputies arrived, the victim wasn't wearing the clothes she'd been wearing when she was shot — because Canales had stripped her clothes off before dumping her into the tub, Clark said. She'd dressed herself before deputies arrived. 

Canales would have had time to scrub down the house, and himself, before deputies arrived, because the 911 call had been placed more than two hours after the shooting, Clark said: Canales, in his statement to the dispatcher, initially said the shooting happened when he "came home" at 8:30 p.m.; the 911 call was placed at close to 10:45 p.m.

He'd also told a detective in an interview why he hadn't immediately called 911 when the victim had begged him to: He said he'd told her, "They’re not going to see this my way."

Then there was the angle of the gunshot wound: through the victim's neck from behind, according to the prosecution's expert. And there was the fact that the victim had said she was unfamiliar with guns, and didn't know how to load one, didn't know the difference between a rifle and a shotgun, and didn't know how to work the action. It would also have been difficult for her to manipulate the rifle in order to shoot herself, Clark said. 

"That is a very large rifle; she's a very small woman," Clark said. "And trying to hold it in that manner that it would result in that gunshot wound doesn't make any sense." 

Echoing his client's statement to Glasgow, defense attorney Garry Wood said that it made sense that if Canales had really wanted to kill the victim, he'd have used the AR-15 or .357 magnum in the home, as both are more powerful than a .22 caliber rifle.‚Äč

Wood also questioned why the victim, from the very beginning during the 911 call, had been so insistent that she hadn't shot herself: She can be heard in the background of the 911 recording saying "Stop lying" when Canales told the dispatcher that she'd attempted suicide; and later, when a deputy asked her what happened, she wrote on a pad of paper that she hadn't shot herself. 

"Why is she concerned about him saying that she didn’t this to herself?" Wood said. "I submit to you because she was feeling guilty about what she did."

He pointed out failures on the part of the FCSO's crime scene investigators to process crucial evidence, including a chair that the victim said she'd been sitting on in the kitchen when she was shot.

In photos, the chair and a cooler next to it appeared to be smeared with blood, but investigators hadn't collected them as evidence. If the material was in fact blood, it would have supported the victim's statement that she'd been shot in the kitchen, as opposed to in the living room, where Canales said the shooting occurred. But without testing to verify what it was, Wood said, it could just as easily be ketchup. 

Wood also called a forensic consultant, former Jacksonville Sheriffs' Office detective Michael Knox, to testify that the muzzle of the rifle the victim had been shot with had been facing upward against her neck from the front, not from behind — contradicting the prosecution expert's assessment. Knox said that the blood found in the kitchen was minimal, and that there was no blood evidence there that would be associated with a gunshot wound from a .22 caliber rifle.

"The physical evidence in this case just does not allow for a conclusive determination" that would support either party's story, Knox said.

Questioning Knox during cross-examination, Clark asked him how much money his company had made off the case. It had been close to $7,000. He also agreed that in about 90% of the cranial cases he'd consulted on, he'd been working for the defense. He admitted that he hadn't seen the physical evidence or the deputies' body camera video of Canales' statements.

In his closing argument, Wood said the prosecution had neglected to process important evidence and was asking the jury to guess about evidence like the chair. "And that's not good enough," Wood said.

Canales did not testify during the trial.

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