GOSHEN – Minutes after an Orange County jury convicted Gregory Cardona of criminally negligent homicide and reckless driving in the crash death of girlfriend Ashley Martinez, months of tensions and resentment between the two families exploded into shouts and name-calling.
The fracas started Wednesday morning just after deputies led Cardona out of court to the inmate holding area, when Assistant District Attorney Matthew Healy stepped toward the rail to speak to Martinez’s family, who filled one side of the gallery.
From the crowd across the courtroom, Cardona’s stepfather muttered an insult at Healy, which set off a woman in Martinez’s family.
“We lost Ashley!” she shouted, adding an insult. “She’s dead! She’s dead!” the woman wailed.
Several court officers stationed in the courtroom for the verdict quickly stepped between the families, keeping them separated despite attempts by a few people to get at the other side.
An Orange County Court jury found Cardona, 28, guilty of criminally negligent homicide, a felony, and reckless driving, a misdemeanor, in the Aug. 30, 2016 crash that killed 25-year-old Martinez. The jury acquitted Cardona on the top count, second-degree vehicular manslaughter, and a misdemeanor count of driving while ability impaired by drugs, a decision that seemed to stun both families.
The verdict suggests that jurors did not find proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Cardona was impaired by marijuana. Healy and Senior Assistant District Attorney Lorri Goldberg argued at trial that Cardona was high and driving recklessly at the time of the crash.
Cardona, 28, of New Windsor, faces up to two to four years in prison on the criminally negligent homicide charge. That time could run consecutively to the aggregate four to 12 years in prison Cardona is serving for violating probation on previous grand larceny and forgery charges.
The courtroom was silent as Judge Robert Freehill took the verdict, as the jury was polled and as the jury exited.
Goldberg asked the judge to order Cardona held without bail, and to return him to prison to await sentencing.
Cardona’s lawyer, Jaime Santana, asked that Cardona be kept at Orange County Jail.
“Mr. Cardona is remanded, and he will be returning to state prison,” Freehill ruled, and deputies led Cardona out of the courtroom.
Freehill called a recess, and no one in the gallery stood.
After a few moments of silence, the fracas began.
As the court officers worked to hold back and calm people, the woman continued screaming in grief and anger, tears falling. Shouting continued from a couple of people on each side. At one point, as the court security held back family members, Cardona’s stepfather stepped on a bench to reach over an officer. The officers, and it appeared other relatives, quickly got him down.
A few minutes later, court officers ushered Martinez’s family out of the courtroom.
Cardona’s family remained in the courtroom until court officers got the clear sign that Martinez’s family had left the premises, a procedure court security staff has used since the start of the case because of the simmering tensions.
Cardona will be sentenced June 5.