Braulio Castillo’s lead attorney took a big swing at his client’s murder conviction Dec. 5 in a six hour battle with prosecutors before Loudoun County Circuit Judge Stephen E. Sincavage. He will announce whether to uphold the jury’s decision or overturn it Dec. 8 at 1 p.m. If Sincavage doesn’t overturn it, Castillo is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 9.
Castillo was found guilty of the murder of his wife, Michelle Castillo, by a Loudoun County jury in June. County prosecutors argued that he snuck into his wife’s Ashburn home, strangled her in the bedroom, then moved her to the basement where he hanged her from a shower to make it appear as a suicide.
Castillo’s attorney, Peter Greenspun, filed an 87-page motion to persuade Sincavage to overturn the conviction, then argued for it in court on Monday. His arguments were based on two major objections.
His first argument was that the evidence presented Castillo unfairly, and therefore the convictions for first degree murder, breaking and entering with the intention to murder, and violating a protective order, should be overturned.
Greenspun said that the prosecution was inconsistent in describing Castillo’s divorce, they never explained how he got in the house when all the locks had been changed or how he disarmed the security system when the code had been changed, and that there was no evidence Castillo used a key to enter the house.
“The variety of factors used in the closing arguments would have been more powerful if they had been based on fact,” Greenspun said.
Greenspun also said there was no evidence of where Castillo waited, and that Michelle Castillo was fastidious in setting the security system. He said there was no evidence of where the electrical cord the prosecution said he used to hang his wife came from, nor evidence of her being strangled in her room at the rug by her bed. Had Michelle Castillo flung the closet door open like the prosecution said, then there would have been damage to the door from the broken doorstop and it would have disturbed a sconce to the side of the closet, Greenspun said. He presented photos with measurements showing that the door would have collided with the sconce.
Chief Deputy Commonwealth Attorney Nicole Wittmann, the lead prosecutor, argued that the these last-ditch efforts of the defense were without merit.
Wittmann objected to Greenspun’s photos, saying that new evidence should have been presented in trial, not in post-trial arguments. Sincavage said he would look at the photos that had been logged into evidence, but not at new photos taken by the defense, though did give Greenspun leeway to present his arguments.
Wittman said the DNA evidence in the case was most the most important factor and that Braulio Castillo’s DNA was on the sweatshirt Michelle Castillo was wearing the night she died, as well as his footprint. She also said the defense did not make their appeals in a timely manner.
Greenspun’s second major argument was to make a motion to overturn the conviction on the basis of a Brady violation. Brady violations occur when the prosecution withholds evidence that is beneficial to the defendant. In this case, Greenspun argued that the prosecution had grounds to question the credibility of lead investigator Mark McCaffrey and did not inform the defense.
Greenspun said that McCaffrey was involved in a homicide case in 2013 and in his report wrote that he met with county prosecutor Alejandra Rueda about the initial autopsy report. He said Rueda did not recommend bringing charges. Eventually the case went to trial and Rueda expressed shock at McCaffrey’s report, saying that she did not remember this meeting ever taking place and he did not show her the autopsy report, Greenspun said.
Greenspun then accused McCaffrey of fabricating the report and called into question his credibility in the Castillo case. McCaffrey was involved in almost all aspects of the Castillo investigation. He attended the autopsy, took information to the medical examiner, took the DNA sample, interviewed witnesses and the Castillo children, and was present at the crime scene and investigated the ligature marks on Michelle Castillo, Greenspun said.
“Without a credible Mark McCaffrey, there is no case,” Greenspun said.
Wittmann said the defense failed the Brady test from the outset. She said Greenspun failed to show that the evidence not disclosed would have been beneficial to the accused, that evidence withheld could impeach the credibility of a government witness, or the evidence was material.
Additionally, Wittmann said the report about McCaffrey said was not false or a lie, but was a matter of differences in recollection. His report did not go in chronological order and at worst was misleading, she said. In a letter filed by the Commonwealth, Rueda wrote that while she did not recall this meeting between her and McCaffrey, she trusted his recollection and if he said the meeting happened, then she concurred.
Wittmann also mentioned that there had never been any internal affairs investigations of McCaffrey, or adverse comments about his work.
Greenspun was not convinced and stood by his accusation that McCaffrey filed a false police report. Wittmann said she saw no reason for the court to find evidence that would overturn the conviction.