80.3 F
Charlotte Amalie
Monday, July 4, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesJudge Eliminates First-Degree Murder as Possible Verdict Against Castillo

Judge Eliminates First-Degree Murder as Possible Verdict Against Castillo

June 11, 2008 — In a day filled with surprises, V.I Superior Court Judge Brenda Hollar struck the charge of first-degree murder in the Daniel Castillo trial, while a witness provided testimony dramatically refuting a critical part of Castillo's confession.
At the end of the day, Hollar said the prosecution had not provided evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the murder of the 12-year-old La'Quina Hennis by Castillo was premeditated, the essential element in a charge of first-degree murder.
Hollar has repeatedly urged assistant attorneys general Jesse Bethel and William K. Evans to present evidence that has more teeth, or to make better use of their information.
She granted public defender Harold Willocks' motion to acquit on the one count of first-degree murder.
Bethel maintains that the murder was pre-meditated by Castillo's own confession. Castillo told police officers, "I choke her and I continued to choke her until she wasn't breathing." Castillo went on to describe that he knew she was dead when her body turned blue.
Bethel says that proves pre-meditation.
"He could have stopped any time before the life went out of the girl," he said. "It's not like someone taking a gun and shooting, with no forethought."
The rule in this case states that "even a brief period" — say, 15 seconds — of reflection can constitute pre-meditation, Bethel pointed out.
Hollar said she will instruct members of the jury that they have two charges to consider: second-degree murder and aggravated child abuse.
Jurors were not allowed in the courtroom until after 11 a.m. while Hollar and the attorneys discussed whether to admit evidence that could be prejudicial to Castillo. In his confession Castillo said Hennis was wearing a pink dress and blue underpants when he put her body in a plastic tub after strangling her.
The coroner's report says she was not wearing underpants when he received the body, the inference being that sexual activity had taken place. Public defender Harold Willocks said the evidence would be unfair to his client, and that consideration would outweigh the substantive value of the evidence.
"The big problem is that the government didn't charge sexual abuse," Hollar said. "He is charged with child abuse, not sexual abuse."
She told the prosecutors, "You have an uphill battle."
"You have opened up a jar of butterflies," Willocks said. "The implication is that he lured her there with intent to rape. That's going to be inferred."
On the witness stand, Dr. Francisco Landron, medical examiner, described receiving Hennis' body, "in a soiled pink dress, a bra with some bills stuck in it, a butterfly ring and no underwear on the body."
Hollar instructed the jury, "You are not to draw any the suggestion of sexual crime from that description. You can give the detail sufficient weight as you give to other evidence."
The body was in such an advanced state of decomposition that it was impossible to determine the cause of death, Landron said. He identified the body using dental records. The cause of death could well have been from strangulation, he said. Strangling a person can take as little as 15 seconds of pressing on the carotid artery or jugular veins, or as much as two minutes with suffocation, Landron said.
Strangling is consistent with what Castillo describes in his confession, in which Castillo said, "I started choking her, and I continued choking her until she was dead," according to Landron.
Ottley "Champy" Smith, Hennis' uncle, dropped a bombshell Wednesday when he told the court that he had never lived at Lot 16 Eighth Ave., the abandoned building where Castillo stayed, and that he had no belongings there. Castillo has maintained that he took Hennis to the location to give her belongings to return to her uncle.
"No, I have never lived there," Smith said in reply to Bethel's questioning. He said he lived at various times at Oswald Harris Court and Paul M. Pearson Gardens. He now lives in Bovoni with his girlfriend and children, Smith said. Asked about his relationship to Castillo, Smith said, "He's my friend, man."
Bethel asked Smith if he hates Castillo now.
"I don't hate him, but he did something wrong," Smith said, adding, "I'm not here to help him. I'm here to help my little niece and my sister."
The jurors — 11 women and one man, mostly older persons — looked on the proceedings with stern faces, hardly blinking in their concentration during the testimony.
Castillo, who had appeared with a shaved head in a June pre-trial hearing, is now sporting a mustache and beard with close-cropped hair. He kept a sober demeanor during most of the proceedings, except on an afternoon break, when he leaned back in his chair and joked with a guard seated behind him.
There had been discussion about DNA evidence at a pre-trial hearing concerning blood, hair and semen samples from the crime scene. At the time, prosecutors said their case wasn't relying on DNA evidence, so they were unconcerned about the results arriving in time for the trial.
After sending the jury on a break late in the day, Hollar announced a stipulation of facts, which she said all attorneys and the defendant had signed and agreed on.
The document contains the FBI forensic results from the Eighth Street location and stipulates:
— blood on a wedding dress at the site was not Castillo's or Hennis';
— head hair was not either's;
— semen found in the shed didn't match either Castillo or Hennis; and
— public hair found in the bedroom could have been Hennis' or some member of her family.
After excusing the jury, Hollar and Bethel continued a battle of semantics for the meaning of premeditated. Bethel was obviously distraught by Hollar's ruling, arguing against it in his closing statements.
It has to be "premeditated, deliberate and with malice aforethought," Hollar said. "You have to show that the sole purpose of his bringing her to the location was to kill her."
The prosecution has the option of appealing the jury's verdict, whatever it may be.
Hollar will give jury instructions Thursday morning.
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.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.




Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.

STAY CONNECTED

20,771FansLike
4,756FollowersFollow

FROM FACEBOOK

Comments Box SVG iconsUsed for the like, share, comment, and reaction icons
Load more
June 11, 2008 -- In a day filled with surprises, V.I Superior Court Judge Brenda Hollar struck the charge of first-degree murder in the Daniel Castillo trial, while a witness provided testimony dramatically refuting a critical part of Castillo's confession.
At the end of the day, Hollar said the prosecution had not provided evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the murder of the 12-year-old La'Quina Hennis by Castillo was premeditated, the essential element in a charge of first-degree murder.
Hollar has repeatedly urged assistant attorneys general Jesse Bethel and William K. Evans to present evidence that has more teeth, or to make better use of their information.
She granted public defender Harold Willocks' motion to acquit on the one count of first-degree murder.
Bethel maintains that the murder was pre-meditated by Castillo's own confession. Castillo told police officers, "I choke her and I continued to choke her until she wasn't breathing." Castillo went on to describe that he knew she was dead when her body turned blue.
Bethel says that proves pre-meditation.
"He could have stopped any time before the life went out of the girl," he said. "It's not like someone taking a gun and shooting, with no forethought."
The rule in this case states that "even a brief period" -- say, 15 seconds -- of reflection can constitute pre-meditation, Bethel pointed out.
Hollar said she will instruct members of the jury that they have two charges to consider: second-degree murder and aggravated child abuse.
Jurors were not allowed in the courtroom until after 11 a.m. while Hollar and the attorneys discussed whether to admit evidence that could be prejudicial to Castillo. In his confession Castillo said Hennis was wearing a pink dress and blue underpants when he put her body in a plastic tub after strangling her.
The coroner's report says she was not wearing underpants when he received the body, the inference being that sexual activity had taken place. Public defender Harold Willocks said the evidence would be unfair to his client, and that consideration would outweigh the substantive value of the evidence.
"The big problem is that the government didn't charge sexual abuse," Hollar said. "He is charged with child abuse, not sexual abuse."
She told the prosecutors, "You have an uphill battle."
"You have opened up a jar of butterflies," Willocks said. "The implication is that he lured her there with intent to rape. That's going to be inferred."
On the witness stand, Dr. Francisco Landron, medical examiner, described receiving Hennis' body, "in a soiled pink dress, a bra with some bills stuck in it, a butterfly ring and no underwear on the body."
Hollar instructed the jury, "You are not to draw any the suggestion of sexual crime from that description. You can give the detail sufficient weight as you give to other evidence."
The body was in such an advanced state of decomposition that it was impossible to determine the cause of death, Landron said. He identified the body using dental records. The cause of death could well have been from strangulation, he said. Strangling a person can take as little as 15 seconds of pressing on the carotid artery or jugular veins, or as much as two minutes with suffocation, Landron said.
Strangling is consistent with what Castillo describes in his confession, in which Castillo said, "I started choking her, and I continued choking her until she was dead," according to Landron.
Ottley "Champy" Smith, Hennis' uncle, dropped a bombshell Wednesday when he told the court that he had never lived at Lot 16 Eighth Ave., the abandoned building where Castillo stayed, and that he had no belongings there. Castillo has maintained that he took Hennis to the location to give her belongings to return to her uncle.
"No, I have never lived there," Smith said in reply to Bethel's questioning. He said he lived at various times at Oswald Harris Court and Paul M. Pearson Gardens. He now lives in Bovoni with his girlfriend and children, Smith said. Asked about his relationship to Castillo, Smith said, "He's my friend, man."
Bethel asked Smith if he hates Castillo now.
"I don't hate him, but he did something wrong," Smith said, adding, "I'm not here to help him. I'm here to help my little niece and my sister."
The jurors -- 11 women and one man, mostly older persons -- looked on the proceedings with stern faces, hardly blinking in their concentration during the testimony.
Castillo, who had appeared with a shaved head in a June pre-trial hearing, is now sporting a mustache and beard with close-cropped hair. He kept a sober demeanor during most of the proceedings, except on an afternoon break, when he leaned back in his chair and joked with a guard seated behind him.
There had been discussion about DNA evidence at a pre-trial hearing concerning blood, hair and semen samples from the crime scene. At the time, prosecutors said their case wasn't relying on DNA evidence, so they were unconcerned about the results arriving in time for the trial.
After sending the jury on a break late in the day, Hollar announced a stipulation of facts, which she said all attorneys and the defendant had signed and agreed on.
The document contains the FBI forensic results from the Eighth Street location and stipulates:
-- blood on a wedding dress at the site was not Castillo's or Hennis';
-- head hair was not either's;
-- semen found in the shed didn't match either Castillo or Hennis; and
-- public hair found in the bedroom could have been Hennis' or some member of her family.
After excusing the jury, Hollar and Bethel continued a battle of semantics for the meaning of premeditated. Bethel was obviously distraught by Hollar's ruling, arguing against it in his closing statements.
It has to be "premeditated, deliberate and with malice aforethought," Hollar said. "You have to show that the sole purpose of his bringing her to the location was to kill her."
The prosecution has the option of appealing the jury's verdict, whatever it may be.
Hollar will give jury instructions Thursday morning.
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.