Castillo Murder Case Advances To Grand Jury
The Ashburn man charged with first-degree murder in the death of his estranged wife will face a grand jury.
After a preliminary hearing that continued into the early evening Thursday, Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court Judge Pamela Brooks ruled that there was enough probable cause to send the first-degree murder charges against Braulio Castillo to the grand jury. The prosecution will present its case to the grand jury Monday.
Brooks denied a motion from the Commonwealth's Attorney to revoke the $2 million bond set last week by a Circuit Court judge. A $1 million bond had previously been set in Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court, which prosecutors appealed.
Even with bond set, Castillo has remained in jail.
Castillo, 48, is charged in the death of his wife, Michelle, who was found dead, hanging from a basement shower, in her Ashburn home the morning of March 20. Deputies initially responded to a call from a neighbor to check on Michelle Castillo’s welfare, and found her body. As her death initially appeared to be a suicide, it was more than two weeks before Braulio Castillo was charged in her death.
According to testimony offered Thursday, Braulio Castillo had been called to the Belmont Station Drive home around 7:30 a.m. March 20 by his children who said they could not find their mother. Castillo went to the home, and asked a neighbor to help him look for Michelle in the house. When she was not found, Castillo took his children, eventually dropping the three older children at school. The neighbor then called the sheriff's office.
The Castillos were in the middle of divorce proceedings at the time of Michelle's death. She filed for divorce in April 2013. Braulio Castillo had been living a couple block away from Michelle and his children at the time of her death. A protective order prevented him from coming to the couple's Belmont Station Drive home or having contact with his children outside of set visitation.
The couple had been scheduled to be in court on issues of custody and financial support the afternoon before Michelle was killed, but that hearing was postponed. Michelle Castillo was seeking sole custody of the couple’s four minor children.
Before a standing-room only courtroom Thursday afternoon, the prosecution laid out some of the evidence against Castillo, culminating with the Castillos' friend David Meeker, who currently has emergency custody of the Castillos' minor children under the terms of the couple's wills, identifying with "100 percent certainty" his friend walking toward the Castillos' Belmont Station Drive home at 8:10 p.m. March 19.
Videos had been captured by the security cameras on a home across the street. The courtroom was silent except for the voices of Meeker and Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Ryan Perry as four different video clips were shown. In the first clip, Meeker identified Castillo walking and jogging along the road and turned toward the driveway of his family's home. In the second clip, Meeker identified Michelle Castillo driving up to the home eight minutes later. In the final clips, around 12:30 a.m. March 20, Meeker identified Braulio Castillo again walking in the area.
When asked by Perry how he knew it was Braulio Castillo in a video that both sides acknowledged did not show his face, Meeker said, "As Mr. Castillo passes in front of the lighted brick column he takes a number of steps walking and then begin to trot with a certain amount of force that it bows his right leg out."
That bowing, Meeker said, is distinctive to Castillo.
Meeker testified that he had seen Castillo walk and run numbers times over their more than decade-long friendship, even though on cross examination from defense attorney Alex Levay he admitted he had not see him friend run for years.
Levay pressed Meeker on how he could be sure the person the video was Castillo, and whether he had any bias when he first viewed the video March 31. Meeker acknowledged that his wife believed that Castillo was responsible for his wife's death, but said detectives did not tell him that it was Castillo on the video nor did he want to think his friend had committed the crime, and had "openly questioned" detectives about the possibility of suicide or another cause of death. He said he did not want to be in the court testifying.
"No one told me it was Braulio Castillo in the video. I don't want to be saying it at all," he said. "But I am here to tell the truth."
Over the course of eight witnesses, prosecutors worked to paint a picture of the final night Michelle was alive. Her triathlon training coach testified about a celebratory team dinner he attended with Michelle and a group of people March 19. In part, the event was to celebrate Michelle's recent completion of a marathon and her qualification for the Boston Marathon.
Braulio Castillo's older sister Lucy Fuentes also was called to testify that after a dinner with the Castillo family, she took the Castillo children to the Lansdowne Harris Teeter as part of the set exchange. It was something she often did, she testified.
In argument, Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Nicole Wittmann noted that it was while his sister was taking his children to Michelle Castillo that Braulio Castillo was allegedly seen on video approaching the house.
"He knows she won't be home," Wittmann said, adding that "to the best of anyone's knowledge" Braulio Castillo is alone at his own home.
Wittmann also called into question Castillo's action after getting the call from his children the morning of March 20.
"At no point does he call the police," Wittmann said. "The only evidence of a call to police is calling someone he knows."
Loudoun Deputy Aaron Kozikowski briefly testified about two phone calls Castillo made to him about 8 a.m. March 20, and the one phone message Castillo left was played for the court.
"He doesn't say his wife is missing, that I violated this protective order by going to the house and taking his children..." Wittmann argued. "It is just a call with no sense of urgency...like a staged call."
During her argument, Wittmann listed the number of injuries to Michelle Castillo's body and face that were documented in the final autopsy report, including blunt force trauma to her upper arms and lower legs, red marks and bruises on her face and "pressure marks around her neck."
In his motion asking the judge to dismiss the case, Levay said the prosecution had not presented any real evidence of Castillo's involvement in his wife's death. "The absence of evidence is not evidence," he said. He also noted that the cause of death--strangulation--is consistent with suicide, the trauma on her neck and the pictures of the scene that deputies found.
"They haven't even proven anyone entered the house," Levay said, noting that video only shows "someone" walking and jogging in the area of the home.