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Hung jury in Castro murder trial

• Jury deadlocked at 9 to 3 for acquittal.

Posted: April 24, 2008 2:07 a.m.
Updated: June 25, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 
SAN FERNANDO - After 20 hours of deliberation, a hung jury was announced Wednesday morning in the murder trial of Esperanza Castro. The final vote was nine to three in favor of acquittal on the murder charge.

Deputy District Attorney Paula Gonzales indicated this morning that her office will prepare for another trial against Castro, who will remain in custody until May
16. On that date, a final determination may be made whether Castro will face a second murder trial or whether her case will be dismissed.

The 12-person jury voted 9 to 3 to acquit Castro of the murder charge, but could not agree on a unanimous verdict, according to several jury members who spoke with The Signal after their decision was announced. On the second charge of conspiracy to commit murder, the jury voted 7 to 5 in favor of acquittal.

"It's not the ‘not guilty' verdict she hoped for," said Peter Korn, Castro's attorney. "She is happy about the decision."

With the split decision, Castro could be released from custody. However, as of Wednesday afternoon, she remained in custody as prosecutors decide whether or not to re-try her.

Whenever there is a hung jury, the District Attorney's office has the option to pursue a second trial against the defendant if prosecutors believe they have sufficient or new evidence to secure a conviction in another attempt.

While Gonzales indicated that her office may re-try Castro, defense attorney Peter Korn said he plans to file a motion to dismiss the matter altogether in light of the jury's decision. If Korn's motion is successful, Castro would not face a second trial and not be subject to any criminal action with regard to the death of her husband.

"I'll definitely be there for her on May 16," Korn said. "Yet I am not sure if I will be able to represent her should this matter be tried again."

Castro, 45, was on trial for allegedly killing her husband in the bedroom of their Canyon Country home on March 22, 2006. The next day, his near-naked body was found bloodied and in the back of his abandoned pickup truck under a Highway 14 overpass on Sierra Highway.

She was also charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

As in all criminal trials, it is the prosecutor's duty to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused individual committed the crime. In this case, Gonzales was required to establish to the jury that the evidence she presented to the jury was sufficient to convict Castro of murdering her husband, Ramon Castro.

The jury, which consisted of seven women and five men, were not able to unanimously agree that Gonzales, indeed, proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Castro killed her husband.

Those who voted to acquit did not believe that Gonzales presented a strong case.

"The big problem with the plaintiff's case was that the detectives were sneaky and leading," said juror Tina Cabot, who also pointed out that the prosecution's key witness, Antonio "Tony" Garcia, was not credible. Garcia lived across the street from the Castro's Canyon Country home, and initially told detectives that he saw Castro carry her dead husband in a black bag and placed him in his pickup truck.

However, when he testified a few weeks ago, he struggled to provide a consistent story.

"He probably saw something; it just was not clear what he saw," she said.

After the decision was announced, the jury members explained the deliberation process to both attorneys in the hallway just outside Dept. J.

"It really was a considerate jury," Korn said. "They were a conscientious and very fair jury."

Yet the jury members themselves stated that the four-day deliberation was the most taxing and emotional experience of the process.

"The deliberations were very frustrating and emotional," Cabot said. "We really tried to come to a verdict."

Chuck Holloway, who was the jury foreman, said that most of the jury members were open-minded, and that the nine members who voted to acquit weighed all the evidence before concluding that Gonzales did not present enough evidence to convict Castro.

"All except two people seemed to have an open mind about the case," Holloway said. "A couple of the jurors seemed to have made up their minds before the case even started. After going through everything, my gut feeling is that (Esperanza Castro) is not guilty."

Karen Speight, who also voted to acquit, said she did not think there was not enough evidence to deliver a guilty verdict.

"The evidence presented to us was not enough for us to reach a binding verdict," she said. "It seemed as if the prosecutor was throwing things on the wall. Korn did a good job of bringing up the weak points of the prosecution's case."

While the jury could not come to a unanimous decision after 30 court days of trial and approximately 20 hours of jury deliberations, Castro's fate now lies in the hands of the District Attorney's office. In the next few weeks, they will decide whether they want to move forward with another murder trial.

A hearing is scheduled for May 16 at the San Fernando Courthouse, where Korn will argue his motion to dismiss the case. A determination may also be made by then as to whether the District Attorney will actually re-try Castro.

Several jury members stated they would attend the May 16 hearing at the San Fernando courthouse, and write letters on the defense's behalf in urging the court to dismiss the matter.

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