Veitch cleared of all charges

By ALEX McRAE alex@newnan.com A Coweta County Superior Court jury found Newnan builder Jason Veitch not guilty of felony murder and four other charges in the June 28, 2008, shooting death of Gaston Gonzalez, a drywall worker who was shot to death by Veitch at a home the defendant was building in south Coweta. Following the verdict Thursday afternoon, friends, family and co-workers of Gonzalez sat in stunned silence while a host of Veitch’s family members and friends sobbed audibly and uttered cries of joy and relief.
Newnan attorneys Mike Kam and Ron Harwell represented Veitch. After the verdict, Harwell said, “We grieve for the Gonzalez family and are thankful the jury gave justice to Jason. This was a just verdict. We are thankful for the judicial system that provided a free and fair hearing. Our justice system is what separates us from all other countries, and we appreciate the hard work of Mike Kam and his staff for making sure the truth came out at this hearing.” Veitch was acquitted on one count of felony murder, three counts of aggravated assault and one count of possession of a firearm while in the commission of a felony. Coweta Superior Court Judge Dennis Blackmon presided over the case. Coweta Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Ray Mayer led the prosecution. Mayer declined to comment immediately after the verdict. Veitch also declined to speak. Supporters and friends of Gonzalez were shocked and angered by the verdict. David Sims, owner of Senoia Drywall, had employed the shooting victim, Gaston Gonzalez, and his cousin and co-worker, Jorge del Angel Escalan, for several years. “They were like family to me,” Sims said. “I can’t believe this has happened. I feel like if it had been a white man or black man from Coweta County there would have been a totally different outcome.” Pastor Carlos Cantu, a friend and supporter of the Gonzalez family, said, “We want to thank all the people who supported the Gonzalez family in their loss. If there is no earthly justice, I believe heavenly justice will prevail. We have nothing against the other family. We pray for them and ask others to pray for our loss.” In the weeks before the fatal shooting, Veitch had reported several thefts of copper wire and pipe from homes he was constructing near the intersection of Robinson and Trammell roads, south of Moreland, but no arrests had been made. According to Veitch, on the morning of Friday, June 27, he arrived at the site to find that four homes burglarized of copper earlier in the month had been hit again. That afternoon, Veitch met with then-Coweta deputy Steven Jordan to report the thefts and ask what could be done to prevent the losses, which Veitch said ran as high as $6,000 per house. Veitch said Jordan told him the only solution was to catch the thieves in the act. Veitch said Jordan suggested [Veitch] hire some teenagers to catch the thieves and “beat them up,” but Veitch said he rejected that idea because he feared someone might get injured. Veitch said Jordan advised him to make a citizen’s arrest and hold any suspected thieves in custody until law enforcement arrived. Veitch said he asked Jordan if he was permitted to shoot a thief if he caught them in the act but was told he should not shoot anyone and should call 911 and wait for law enforcement. Veitch questioned how he might retain more than one suspect and was told by Jordan to bind them with plastic ties and, if necessary, attach the ties to framing studs in order to hold the thieves. Veitch said he was uncertain he could detain more than one suspect and asked Jordan if he could shoot suspected thieves in the leg if they attempted to escape. He was again told “no.” That night, according to Veitch’s testimony, he went to the job site and hid in the woods. He had a 12-gauge shotgun, a .22-caliber pistol and extra ammunition for each weapon. He also had a bag of plastic ties he’d bought that night. Veitch said that sometime after midnight he saw an unfamiliar vehicle drive onto the site and park in front of one of the under-construction homes. The vehicle was occupied by three drywall workers who had been assigned the day before by Senoia Drywall to work on Veitch’s homes. The prosecution said Veitch was familiar with the men and had seen their van at the job site. Veitch said he had not been introduced to the new drywall workers and was not familiar with their vehicle. The drywall workers told authorities they had worked late Friday on one of Veitch’s houses, and rather than drive back to their Norcross homes, they went out to eat and drove back to Veitch’s job site and parked, intending to sleep in the van and start work early Saturday morning. Veitch said he was not familiar with the men or their intentions to spend the night, adding that workers had never spent the night at one of his job sites. He said he was never informed of the workers’ intentions and did not expect any traffic near his homes that night. Veitch said when the van arrived he called 911 and reported he was being robbed. He said he then called his father-in-law, Billy Flournoy, and asked him to come to the scene. Phone records confirmed the calls. Veitch said he remained hidden in the woods waiting for deputies to arrive, but Flournoy got there first. According to Veitch, Flournoy parked his truck with its lights shining on the van, then shone a flashlight into the van and ordered the passengers to get out. Veitch testified he feared for Flournoy’s safety and left his hiding place. He fired a warning shot from the 12-gauge into the air and joined Flournoy as the three drywall workers exited the van. Veitch said two of the men —Jorge del Angel Escalan and Rolando Rivera — got on the ground and put their hands behind their heads as ordered. A third man, Gaston Gonzalez, exited the van and got on the ground but kept trying to get up, refusing to place his hands behind his back. Veitch testified that in an attempt to make Gonzalez comply, he poked Gonzalez twice on the upper back with his shotgun barrel. On the second poke, the shotgun fired, striking Gonzalez in the back of the neck. After the shooting, Veitch called 911 and requested an ambulance, but instead of waiting, Flournoy drove Gonzalez to Piedmont Newnan Hospital, where Gonzalez was pronounced dead. The defense contended that Veitch was acting within the law and had not committed any crime, since he felt there was a threat to both himself and Flournoy. The prosecution contended that the events were the results of actions Veitch had initiated, thereby making him responsible for the situation and its fatal results.

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