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Defense begins its case in Castro trial

Witnesses tell what they saw near time of murder.

Posted: April 8, 2008 10:44 p.m.
Updated: June 10, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 
SAN FERNANDO - On day one of the defense's case in the trial of Esperanza Castro, two witnesses testified about what they saw happening around the Castro house near the time of Ramon Castro's murder.

Casey Dunn, a teenage boy who lives in the house across from the Castro's Evron Street residence, took the stand on Tuesday to describe what he witnessed on March 22, 2006, the night before Ramon Castro's body was found. Esperanza Castro is accused of killing her husband in the bedroom of their Canyon Country home, then leaving his body on Sierra Highway in the bed of his truck, where it was found the morning of March 23.

Defense attorney Peter Korn asked Dunn to describe where he was that night and what his relationship was with the Castro family. Dunn said that he was familiar with the family and was a friend of Eric Castro, the couple's son. Between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. on the evening of March 22, Dunn said that he was in his bedroom playing video games on his X-Box when he heard a voice outside.

Apparently the voice was distinct enough that it prompted Dunn to peek through his window out of curiosity to see what was going on. He testified that he then witnessed an unknown man placing a black bag into the bed of Ramon Castro's white work truck, which was parked head-in in the driveway of the Castro home.

Dunn said that the bag appeared to be only about 4 feet long - not long enough to fit a body in, in his opinion. He added that the street lights were not functioning that night, but his view of the man was not obstructed by the vehicle itself. The only identifying detail Dunn gave was that the man was not wearing a hat.

Dunn testified that he originally told detectives that he thought the man was standing on the driver's side of the vehicle at the time of the incident, but shortly before he was called to testify Tuesday he realized that his memory was incorrect, and that the man had in fact been standing on the passenger side of the vehicle. When Deputy District Attorney Paula Gonzales grilled Dunn during cross-examination about his changed recollection, he simply said that he didn't know why his memory of that detail changed.

Gonzales then pressed him about his contact with Eric Castro in the months between Dunn's first interview with sheriff's deputies the day after the murder, and a second interview a few months later. Dunn apparently told deputies that he had stayed overnight at the Castro house several times after the murder, but on the stand he said he did not remember saying that.

He also did not remember saying during Castro's preliminary hearing that he saw a "brown-skinned man" on the driver's side of the truck that night, even after he was shown the transcript of the interview.

The second witness, Lindsay Banuelos, said she was walking on Evron Street on the morning of March 23. Although she does not live in the neighborhood, she said she was there to visit her mother, who is a resident of the street. When she went out for a walk, she saw law enforcement vehicles surrounding the Castro house, intending to find out what was going on.

She testified that as she walked toward the house, she encountered Tony Garcia, a neighbor of the Castro's, coming toward her. Garcia, who appeared upset, had a black bag in his hand. Banuelos asked him if he knew what was going on and he allegedly replied, "Yeah, I saw it all." He then stated that he had seen two women and a man dragging a black bag from the Castro's garage the prior night.

When Banuelos asked him if he had reported this information to the police, Garcia allegedly said that he "didn't want to get involved."

She also testified that Garcia smelled strongly of alcohol. Later, as she approached the Castro residence, Banuelos said that she saw blood on the driveway.

Garcia gave first-hand testimony earlier in the trial, but it was discredited because of discrepancies in his recollection of the events of that night. The account he gave sheriff's deputies when he was interviewed shortly after the murder differed in certain respects from the testimony he gave on the stand on March 19.

The jury was dismissed early Tuesday afternoon so that attorneys could hold a hearing regarding whether to allow the testimony of a doctor who is expert in the area of witness recollection and visual perception. The trial will also take the day off today so that the attorneys can perform additional discovery.

Korn has not said yet whether or not Castro will take the stand in her own defense.

However, if she does not, Korn said that he could possibly wrap up his case as soon as the end of this week, or the beginning of next week.

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