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Prosecution in Murder Case Poorly Prepared, Judge Says

Sept. 14, 2007 — V.I. Superior Court Judge Brenda Hollar lambasted the prosecution Friday in a pre-trial hearing for Daniel Castillo, accused in the April murder of 12-year-old La'Quina Hennis.
In April Castillo pleaded not guilty in V.I. Superior Court to charges of first- and second-degree murder and aggravated child abuse. He is being held on $1 million bail. (See "Details of Child's Murder Revealed During Court Hearing; Bail Set at $1 Million for Suspect.")
The hearing Friday concerned a motion by the defense to suppress a confession by Castillo. Hollar wanted to ascertain that Castillo's arrest was legal, therefore making the confession legal.
It marked the second time Hollar has taken the prosecution to task in the case. In August, the prosecution was not able to produce evidence police had collected, and did not have all its witnesses in the courtroom, including Det. Lionel Bess, the officer assigned to the case.
Bess appeared Friday, but could not provide information Hollar demanded about what happened between the time U.S. marshals first picked Castillo up April 8 — after which he was released — and April 12, when he was picked up again and arrested.
V.I. Assistant Attorney General Kelly Evans fared no better in Hollar's courtroom when he failed to provide a case against the motion to suppress Castillo's confession. Evans provoked Hollar's ire when he could not tell the location of certain key witnesses.
"My problem is trying to figure out what the police were thinking," Hollar said. "The public defender has done a very poor job. Sgt. Roberto Lima, who was there for the arrest, is not in court. Police officer Sofia Rachid is not in court. Where are they? They are not here. They were not subpoenaed."
Rachid is on maternity leave and should be back next week, while Lima is off island, Evans said.
Hollar called for a recess. When she returned, she told Evans, "I'm going to give you one last opportunity, and after that let the chips fall where they may." She asked Evans and public defenders Harold Willocks and Hap Washington how much time they needed to prepare, after which she set a court date of Oct. 2.
Hollar expressed exasperation with the V.I. Justice Department for mistakes in handling cases, including several other high-profile cases, when Evans last came before her in August, according to published reports.
However, she did rule against the defense motion Friday after hearing testimony from Deputy U.S. Marshal David Drake about the events leading up to Castillo's confession.
The defense entered another motion Friday. Public Defender Harold Willocks said it is an expansion of the original motion to suppress. He told reporters outside the courtroom that if the arrest was "unlawful" then the confession would be unlawful.
The defense previously claimed that Castillo confessed only when his life was threatened. No testimony contradicted Drakes' claim that he did not have his gun out when Castillo confessed, according to an Aug. 22 report in the V.I. Daily News.
On April 8, the report says, Police Commissioner James McCall asked Drake to help Sgt. Roberto Lima, head of the police department's major crimes unit, find a "person of interest." This was before the girl's body was found April 11.
The marshals said they found Castillo in Frenchtown Easter Sunday, April 8, and brought him to police headquarters, turning him over to homicide detectives for questioning, after which Castillo was released. McCall said later the police didn't have enough evidence to hold him at that time.
The day after the girl's body was found, police contacted Drake and asked for his help. He and his men returned to the Frenchtown hillside where they found Castillo before. Drake told the court he approached Castillo with gun drawn, but holstered it once he determined Castillo wasn't armed, according to the Daily News report.
"I killed the little girl, La'Quina," Castillo said, according to Drake.
Drake allowed Castillo to continue his confession. He then cuffed Castillo and told him he was going to read him his rights. Castillo told Drake he had no rights because of what he did to Hennis. Drake read him his rights, then read aloud into a tape recorder the statement he had made earlier. Castillo acknowledged it.
At that same hearing, Hollar denied a defense motion to have the case dismissed because of extensive media coverage, which the defense said would prevent the defendant from getting a fair trial.
Willocks attached several news stories to his motion, but could not find an article with a direct quote from Attorney General Vincent Frazer that he claimed overstepped the bounds of acceptable public comment on the case. Hollar said the defense could refile the motion if they found the questionable quote.
Willocks tried to have the motion heard again Friday, but Hollar said it would have to wait until the next hearing.
Neither Frazer nor McCall returned calls late Friday.
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Sept. 14, 2007 -- V.I. Superior Court Judge Brenda Hollar lambasted the prosecution Friday in a pre-trial hearing for Daniel Castillo, accused in the April murder of 12-year-old La'Quina Hennis.
In April Castillo pleaded not guilty in V.I. Superior Court to charges of first- and second-degree murder and aggravated child abuse. He is being held on $1 million bail. (See "Details of Child's Murder Revealed During Court Hearing; Bail Set at $1 Million for Suspect.")
The hearing Friday concerned a motion by the defense to suppress a confession by Castillo. Hollar wanted to ascertain that Castillo's arrest was legal, therefore making the confession legal.
It marked the second time Hollar has taken the prosecution to task in the case. In August, the prosecution was not able to produce evidence police had collected, and did not have all its witnesses in the courtroom, including Det. Lionel Bess, the officer assigned to the case.
Bess appeared Friday, but could not provide information Hollar demanded about what happened between the time U.S. marshals first picked Castillo up April 8 -- after which he was released -- and April 12, when he was picked up again and arrested.
V.I. Assistant Attorney General Kelly Evans fared no better in Hollar's courtroom when he failed to provide a case against the motion to suppress Castillo's confession. Evans provoked Hollar's ire when he could not tell the location of certain key witnesses.
"My problem is trying to figure out what the police were thinking," Hollar said. "The public defender has done a very poor job. Sgt. Roberto Lima, who was there for the arrest, is not in court. Police officer Sofia Rachid is not in court. Where are they? They are not here. They were not subpoenaed."
Rachid is on maternity leave and should be back next week, while Lima is off island, Evans said.
Hollar called for a recess. When she returned, she told Evans, "I'm going to give you one last opportunity, and after that let the chips fall where they may." She asked Evans and public defenders Harold Willocks and Hap Washington how much time they needed to prepare, after which she set a court date of Oct. 2.
Hollar expressed exasperation with the V.I. Justice Department for mistakes in handling cases, including several other high-profile cases, when Evans last came before her in August, according to published reports.
However, she did rule against the defense motion Friday after hearing testimony from Deputy U.S. Marshal David Drake about the events leading up to Castillo's confession.
The defense entered another motion Friday. Public Defender Harold Willocks said it is an expansion of the original motion to suppress. He told reporters outside the courtroom that if the arrest was "unlawful" then the confession would be unlawful.
The defense previously claimed that Castillo confessed only when his life was threatened. No testimony contradicted Drakes' claim that he did not have his gun out when Castillo confessed, according to an Aug. 22 report in the V.I. Daily News.
On April 8, the report says, Police Commissioner James McCall asked Drake to help Sgt. Roberto Lima, head of the police department's major crimes unit, find a "person of interest." This was before the girl's body was found April 11.
The marshals said they found Castillo in Frenchtown Easter Sunday, April 8, and brought him to police headquarters, turning him over to homicide detectives for questioning, after which Castillo was released. McCall said later the police didn't have enough evidence to hold him at that time.
The day after the girl's body was found, police contacted Drake and asked for his help. He and his men returned to the Frenchtown hillside where they found Castillo before. Drake told the court he approached Castillo with gun drawn, but holstered it once he determined Castillo wasn't armed, according to the Daily News report.
"I killed the little girl, La'Quina," Castillo said, according to Drake.
Drake allowed Castillo to continue his confession. He then cuffed Castillo and told him he was going to read him his rights. Castillo told Drake he had no rights because of what he did to Hennis. Drake read him his rights, then read aloud into a tape recorder the statement he had made earlier. Castillo acknowledged it.
At that same hearing, Hollar denied a defense motion to have the case dismissed because of extensive media coverage, which the defense said would prevent the defendant from getting a fair trial.
Willocks attached several news stories to his motion, but could not find an article with a direct quote from Attorney General Vincent Frazer that he claimed overstepped the bounds of acceptable public comment on the case. Hollar said the defense could refile the motion if they found the questionable quote.
Willocks tried to have the motion heard again Friday, but Hollar said it would have to wait until the next hearing.
Neither Frazer nor McCall returned calls late Friday.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.