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Judge Rejects Castro Mistrial Motion

Murder trial enters second day.

Posted: March 5, 2008 5:26 p.m.
Updated: May 7, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Ramon Mendoza Castro's body was found in the back of his pickup truck beneath a freeway underpass in 2006. Castro's widow, Esperanza, is on trial for his murder.

SAN FERNANDO - Esperanza Castro's attorney Peter Korn filed for mistrial Wednesday based upon speculative testimony in Tuesday's direct examination of Sheriff's Deputy Charles Moylan of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station. Korn said Moylan discussed evidence that was not made available to the defense by county Deputy District Attorney Paula Gonzales. Superior Court Judge Burt Pines denied the motion, instead striking the portion of Moylan's testimony that the defense challenged.

"I am finding that the testimony was not prejudicial," Pines said in his ruling. "I am finding that the defendant is receiving a fair trial and instructing the jury to strike the testimony."

Esperanza Castro is on trial for the murder of her husband, Ramon Castro, who was found beaten and shot to death under a Highway 14 overpass in March 2006.

At the end of direct examination on Tuesday, Gonzales asked Moylan about his observations of Esperanza Castro's hair when he responded to her 911 emergency call in 2006. Moylan responded that he believed Castro's hair was damp or wet.

However, Korn objected to the testimony on Tuesday, stating that evidence about Castro's hair was not submitted to him by the prosecution. Under California law, both parties must exchange evidence they intend to use at trial. He said that the testimony was late discovery and he wanted the opportunity to consider the evidence, as opposed to hearing about it for the first time during testimony.

He further argued that since Gonzales intended to present testimony regarding the state of Castro's hair at trial without informing him, Castro was prejudiced and a mistrial was warranted.

Korn also requested that if the motion was denied, then Moylan's testimony regarding Castro's hair should be stricken from the record and the jury be informed accordingly.

"The bell cannot be unrung," Korn said when he filed the motion. "The jury is tainted. No good attorney is going to ask questions they do not know the answers to. I am now afraid to cross-examine Moylan."

Yet Gonzales, who conceded she was mistaken in not informing Korn of Moylan's testimony, responded that a mistrial was not necessary.

"I do not think the testimony should be stricken," she said. "This does not rise to the level of a mistrial."

Pines partially agreed. While he denied the motion, he agreed with Korn that Moylan's testimony should be stricken from the record.

Under the California Penal Code, disclosure of evidence and discovery must be made available to the opposing attorney at least 30 days before trial. If certain evidence or discovery was made within 30 days of trial, then it must be made available immediately.

Korn filed his mistrial motion, stating that Gonzales knew about the evidence yet did not present it to him in accordance with the code.

After the motion was denied, Pines brought the jury back into the courtroom and instructed them not to consider Moylan's testimony regarding his observations of Castro's hair at the crime scene.

The judge then proceeded with the second day of the trial. Korn cross-examined Moylan and verified the accuracy of his testimony during direct examination Tuesday.

Later in the afternoon, Flynn Lamas presented forensic evidence against Castro.

The trial will continue today in Department J of the San Fernando Superior Court at 10:30 a.m.


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