Emilie Inman playing the guitar at her family home. Photo: Inman family

A devastating murder case concluded Friday in Alameda County Superior Court with a judge finding Pablo Gomez Jr. not guilty by reason of insanity and confining the convicted killer to a state mental hospital for 39 years to life.

Gomez fatally stabbed 27-year-old Emilie Juliette Inman at her Berkeley home in 2017. The two had never met. On Jan. 6, 2017, Gomez got a ride to Inman’s home on Ashby Avenue where a friend had once lived. But instead of finding that friend, Gomez found Inman. Gomez used one of Inman’s kitchen knives to murder her, then meticulously hid her body under a yellow-flowering bush in her yard before ultimately fleeing to Southern California. The night before, Gomez and other friends at UC Berkeley had taken part in a Día de Los Reyes ceremony that may have involved drug use and, according to the court, ultimately preceded a violent psychotic break with reality.

On Friday morning, Gomez entered no-contest pleas to Inman’s murder and to attacking the friend who had provided the ride to Inman’s house. Judge C. Don Clay found the 24-year-old former UC Berkeley activist guilty of those charges. Immediately after finding Gomez guilty, however, Clay ruled that Gomez was insane at the time of the attacks and would therefore not stand trial in the case, in line with an agreement the attorneys had reached prior to the hearing based on assessments by several mental health professionals for both the defense and prosecution.

After Clay made his ruling, a dozen or so of Inman’s family and friends addressed the court to express how her brutal killing had broken their spirits. About 25 of them attended Friday’s hearing, along with two of the former Berkeley homicide detectives who worked on the case. No one attended the hearing on Gomez’s behalf.

Nearly three years after the murder, those who spoke Friday morning described the anxiety, paranoia and nightmares that have plagued them in the continuing struggle to live with the loss of a woman who inspired seemingly everyone who met her with her absolute commitment to creativity, love and radical honesty.

Emilie Inman. Photo: Inman family

The first to speak was Nathalie Inman, Emilie’s mother. She described Gomez as a “sadistic butcher” — the damage to her daughter’s body from the attack was extreme — and said the steps Gomez had taken to cover up the killing made it clear to her “he knew he was wrong.” The idea that Gomez would be found not guilty by reason of insanity had left her reeling.

“So who is responsible?” she asked the court. “Apparently no one.”

“We have to live with this absurd and heinous story, the story of Emilie’s death,” Inman told the judge. “Emilie’s absence is unspeakable and absolutely frightening. Please do not let this creature free in society ever again.”

She also said she doubted Gomez would have attacked a man in the same manner, and believed her daughter’s murder may have been motivated in part by her gender.

Inman ended her remarks with a recording of her daughter’s voice: two lines from a Sarah Williams poem Emilie had put to music and sung a cappella. Inman pressed play on her cellphone, which was hooked up to a small speaker, and Emilie’s clear voice filled the silent room: “Though my soul may set in darkness / it will rise in perfect light / I have loved the stars too fondly / to be fearful of the night.”

When she spoke, Margaux Inman, Emilie’s younger sister, challenged Gomez to witness the anguish Emilie’s murder had caused to so many people. Margaux said Gomez had sent a letter to the family more than a year earlier, mentioning the “alleged crime” and a desire to look the family in the eyes “so that we would see your sorrow.”

“This is your chance to show some decency, to listen and look into our eyes to see a glimpse of what you’ve done,” she told Gomez, whose posture immediately straightened while turning to watch her speak.

“I don’t know who you are and doubt you do now either,” she told Gomez, who nodded in agreement. “To me, you are a destroyer. The shell of a human. A ghost. You may be out of touch with reality, but this is mine.”

She said Gomez had robbed the family of the experiences they would never get to share with Emilie, the trips she would never get to take and the children she wanted but would never get to have. She said Gomez’s diagnosis, identified as schizophrenia, was no excuse.

“You are not without guilt,” she told Gomez. “It was your hands that stabbed and killed my sister. You hid what you had done. You are the reason I have heard the word ‘body’ referring to my beautiful sister. You did this, Pablo Gomez, your soul and your body. We are affected by her absence every single day, both by the loss of her presence, but also by the details of her violent and senseless death. The images in my mind of someone I love so much having been treated this way are haunting and painful.”

Police in the 2400 block of Ashby Avenue after Emilie Inman’s murder. Photo: Emilie Raguso

Inman’s younger brother, Basile, described to the court the night his family drove to Berkeley from their home in San Luis Obispo. Initially, all they knew was that Emilie was missing. The drive was “seemingly endless,” he said.

“Finding a trail of blood outside Emilie’s home and following it with flashlights. Standing in shock when I heard the words, ‘We have found a body.’ Calling my best friend to tell them Emilie has been murdered,” he told the judge. “Lying beside my family that night in disbelief, holding each other as we shake and whimper. Listening as my parents call their parents to inform them their daughter has been murdered.”

Basile also described the ceremony the family held to release Emilie’s ashes. They planted a weeping birch tree, “her childhood favorite,” and “spread Emilie’s ashes on each other’s faces.”

“This was the last time I truly was able to release my emotions,” he said. “I don’t know how to feel anymore.… I’ve been utterly wiped out.”

Emilie’s father, Scott Inman, also spoke. He told the judge he would never be able to forgive Gomez.

“There is no restorative justice for this type of crime,” he said. “Killing my daughter with a knife in this manner has broken us. I used to be such a positive, loving man. And, though I try to dig deep, and to tap into my inner well, I know that the well is low. Never have I experienced such pain myself, and even worse to see my family in such agony for so long. We are crushed.”

Both the speakers and those who listened to them audibly cried and, at times, sobbed with emotion during the hearing. There were red eyes all around. Prosecutor Stacie Pettigrew comforted some of the speakers while they provided their statements to the court; she, too, cried softly as she held her hand against their backs. Speakers told the judge how they were tormented as they involuntarily pictured Emilie’s final moments again and again, and had sought grief therapy but found little relief. They said they believed the elaborate steps Gomez had taken to cover up the crime rendered the insanity finding incomprehensible.

“I don’t know what justice for Emilie looks like, but it’s not this,” one woman told the judge.

“I believe that mental health is being used as an excuse,” said a woman who was one of Inman’s roommates in Berkeley at the time of her murder. “If the courts are supposed to provide some sense of justice or closure, they have failed.”

Gomez, who wore a red short-sleeved jumpsuit and was shackled at the wrists to a chain around the waist, did not offer a statement Friday. Gomez listened and watched quietly but did not visibly react during the nearly two-hour hearing, other than nodding in response to Margaux Inman’s words.

Speaking on his client’s behalf, however, public defender George Arroyo, in a hushed voice, described the remarks as heartfelt and said he had talked with Gomez at length about the case, adding that something — what he was referencing was unclear from the proceedings — had resonated with Gomez. Arroyo spoke so quietly that his words were largely inaudible, even in the quiet courtroom.

Arroyo said, earlier in the hearing, that he had spoken with Gomez “extensively,” for 2.5 hours last week alone, and said Gomez was “completely coherent understanding and participating in our discussion.” Arroyo said Gomez understood the charges and the consequences in the case and was both “prepared to go forward” and “competent to enter into the negotiated” agreement.

Judge: “A senseless death by a young man who was insane”

Judge Clay — who was a criminal defense attorney before becoming a federal prosecutor, and was appointed to the bench in 2003 — said Inman’s killing was “not the norm” but an “anomaly” among the murders that take place in Alameda County.

“I know there is a lot of pain in this room from everyone,” he said, adding: “I know there’s nothing I can say or do that’s really going to do something for the family.”

Clay expressed deep sympathy for those in attendance and said they had made it clear what a remarkable woman Emilie Inman was. He pushed back, however, on the idea that Gomez could be held legally responsible for the murder.

“Young Mr. Gomez is sick. He is absolutely sick,” Clay said. “You can’t do these things and not be sick. A person in their right mind could not do this.”

Clay said what had stood out most to him, however, was how many people had seen Gomez in the days before the murder and did nothing to help — despite irrefutable signs of trouble.

“Where was everybody?” he asked. “Why didn’t somebody call somebody to do something?”

“They failed,” Clay said, adding that “individual freedom” has its limits when someone is in a mental health crisis. “Nobody wants to do anything, but it’s so important. It takes a community.”

Clay called Inman’s murder “a senseless death by a young man who was insane.” He promised Inman’s family and friends that Gomez would never walk free again. Clay sentenced Gomez to a mental hospital for an indeterminate term of 39 years to life and ordered him to be sent to state prison if Gomez “at any time reaches sanity.”

“The issue of him getting out, that’s not happening,” he told hearing attendees. “If he does get better, then he goes to prison. I want you to know that.”

Clay’s remarks seemed in possible contrast, however, to the law. Several people familiar with the ruling in the case have said a “not guilty by reason of insanity” finding means someone could one day be released from a mental institution if they are no longer considered a danger to society.

After the hearing, one attorney said it wasn’t clear whether Clay’s remarks were, in fact, legal but noted that confinement under these particular circumstances would, in all probability, be for life. And the minimum sentence of 39 years means it will be several decades before release could even be considered.

“The kind of person that always went straight to your heart”

Emilie Inman with some of her artwork. Photo: Minea Herwitz Bisset

In a recent phone conversation, Inman’s father, Scott, told Berkeleyside that the court process had taken a heavy toll on the family’s physical and mental health. Multiple trial dates had been scheduled and ultimately postponed. Loved ones put their lives on hold to drive hours up to Oakland for countless hearings. At most of those hearings, nothing much happened. The timing of the legal process, he said, is all about the perpetrator’s rights.

“It feels like it’s all been about him. It hasn’t been about Emilie,” Inman said. “I for one look forward to the moment when we can no longer talk about this man. We are so tired of justice seeming to be concerned more about the defendant’s rights, and the legal process, rather than the victims and all of those connected to the victims.”

The extensive destruction to his daughter’s body had also been difficult to bear. One attorney familiar with the case told him the murder was the most extreme violence she had seen in nearly two decades as a prosecutor.

Inman said it had also been hard to come to terms with how many questions the family still has that will never be answered: Were there drugs involved with the psychotic break? What exactly happened during the ceremony the night before Emilie’s murder? Why didn’t anyone seek help for Gomez when they saw there was something wrong? Why did someone drive Gomez to Emilie’s home — and not the hospital?

“This is so not some murder mystery where you actually find out the motive,” he said. “It’s more like: ‘We have the guy. Put him away.’ It’s so unsatisfying.”

Inman said he also wondered whether the case might actually have gone to trial had the murder happened somewhere other than Alameda County, with its particular jury pool. He’d spoken with a number of judges and legal experts who reviewed the case material and believed that it would have.

He said he and his family are still trying to imagine something, anything, that can “come out of this that can actually bring some kind of light or some kind of hope or some kind of change.”

Inman paused, and said he was looking at a photograph of his daughter that he keeps on his desk at work. She’s wearing a blue hoodie and her face is painted, perhaps for a festival of some kind. Her hair is in dreadlocks and she’s looking directly into the camera lens.

“Emilie was so about truth and love and understanding. She was the kind of person that always went straight to your heart,” he said. “There’s no small talk. It was like just — reaching in: ‘And how are you? How is your heart doing today? What’s made you happy today?’ She shared that with everyone.”

Inman continued: “Everybody who met her got excited — and wanted to share her.” No one could bear to selfishly keep her special brand of bustling, glowing energy to themselves. Instead, he said, it was always, “‘You’ve got to meet my friend Emilie, this one’s radiant.'”

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...