Grandma survived a point-blank bullet to the head. Now, she faces her attacker
Gloria Casanova, a grandmother, nursing assistant and native of Cuba, was sitting quietly inside her tiny Miami efficiency, studying an English book to learn about irregular verbs.
Suddenly, the door burst open. Two burglars rushed in. Surprised she was home, the pair took her hostage and marched her into the bathroom. They ordered her into the bath tub and then one man shot her in the head, execution-style.
The bullet entered her temple, a few centimeters in front of her left ear. But it exited at the base of her skull, passing clean through her neck. Miraculously, Casanova survived and staggered to a nearby hair salon where employees called 911.
On Friday, five years later, the 63-year-old on Friday appeared in a Miami courtroom to see her attacker sent to prison.
"I am alive today to identify and get this dangerous person off the streets," Casanova told Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Martin Zilber.
The judge complied, sentencing 28-year-old Joel Gonzalez to 40 years in prison, to be followed by 10 years of probation.
A jury convicted Gonzalez earlier this year of armed burglary, kidnapping and attempted murder. Gonzalez, who has a long rap sheet and history of break-ins, did not speak at Friday's sentencing hearing.
The shooting happened in the Flagami neighborhood in April 2013. Detectives suspected Gonzalez and another as-of-yet identified man were casing homes in the middle of the day. They broke into Casanova's efficiency, hoping to find a way into the attached house — only to find the woman inside studying English.
"He shot her in the face and left her for dead in her bathtub, in a puddle of her own vomit," prosecutor Johanna Miñoso told a judge.
Casanova, a former librarian in Cuba and grandmother of three, had recently earned her certification to become a nursing assistant.
Detectives first identified her assailant from a fingerprint left on a car a couple blocks away; just minutes before the shooting, a police officer saw him peering into a black Ford mustang. Casanova then identified Gonzalez, who was on probation for an unrelated break-in at the time.
At trial, prosecutors Miñoso and Annette Rasco showed jury a police artist sketch — drawn with the victim's help — that looked remarkably like the suspect.
While her doctors called her survival a miracle, Casanova did not escape completely unscathed. She still has an indentation in her neck where the bullet exited her head.
She may soon stop working because of a diagnoses of post traumatic stress disorder. "I suffer from anxiety, depression and anxiety," Casanova said. "I get shaky hands."