After 21 years in prison for the murder of his estranged wife, Robert Gonzales had his first appearance before the Nevada Parole Board on Tuesday.
He ran into some tough questions from board members over whether they should believe he has changed his abusive ways.
Gonzales, 68, won commutation of his life sentence from the Pardons Board in November, granting him a chance to show the Parole Board he deserves his freedom. There is no guarantee he will be released. The board can grant release, parole him on one or more counts but not all of the sentences or deny him parole for up to three years before he qualifies for another hearing.
The board will announce its decision in three to four weeks.
Members of the panel agreed he has completed every possible program and has been a good prisoner attempting to show he is a reformed man.
"I never thought I would even be here, given the sentence I had and the brutal nature of the crime I committed," he told the board in a soft voice.
He said he has reformed his life, learning that he made bad choices before his conviction, and has even been ordained a Baptist minister.
But board member Connie Bisbee questioned whether he has truly reformed.
"I always think in cases like this there aren't any women and children to abuse here," she said of the prison. "You never addressed that. You have walking wounded all over."
Gonzales' record, including the testimony from his trial, contains a history of abuse not only of the murder victim but in a previous relationship.
Bisbee questioned whether Gonzales has learned to control that behavior in the future asking: "What would make somebody safe from you?"
Gonzales said he took classes to learn about what caused his violent actions in the past and now understands what happens when someone like him makes the wrong choices.
Board member Mary Vieth asked if he had learned what triggers his violent streak and Gonzales responded that he has undergone analysis of his emotions and now is able to deal with them.
She said she was more concerned about "learning how to prevent them."
"Why didn't you try get help before?" she asked.
"I was in denial, thought that it would work itself out, that things would get better," he said. "I felt my volunteer work would be my effort to make it right."
Constance Gonzales was stabbed to death in May 1985 in the parking lot outside a Carson City doctor's office and in front of the couple's teenage daughter.
Gonzales was in Truckee Meadows Hospital receiving psychiatric treatment when she served him with a restraining order and divorce papers.
He checked out of the hospital, found the victim, and killed her.
He was sentenced to life without possible parole by Carson District Judge Mike Fondi.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 687-8750.