San Antonio lovers’ lane killer gets fourth execution date in less than a year
A San Antonio killer this month was handed his fourth execution date in less than a year.
Juan Castillo, who was sent to death row for his role in a 2003 lovers’ lane slaying, is now slated to die by lethal injection on May 16, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Last year, his string of death dates were called off for everything from Hurricane Harvey to a witness who recanted.
But before the setting of the most recent date, defense attorneys say they never got to weigh in.
Instead, when the appeals court bounced the case back to the trial court in November to examine false testimony claims, prosecutors filed a brief – and the judge decided against Castillo one day later, according to court filings.
“It’s really unusual and strange,” said Amanda Marzullo, executive director of Texas Defender Services, which is representing Castillo. “It’s a clear due process violation.”
The Bexar County District Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The 36-year-old condemned man was originally convicted in 2005 of killing teenage rapper Tommy Garcia Jr. during a botched robbery.
Castillo’s then-girlfriend lured the targeted man to a secluded spot with the promise of sex and drugs. But while the two were making out in his Camaro, Castillo and another man attacked.
Wearing ski masks and carrying weapons, they dragged Garcia from the car – and Castillo shot him seven times in the process.
Castillo was one of four people convicted in the crime, but the only one hit with a capital sentence. During the punishment phase, he represented himself.
He was found guilty on what would have been his victim’s 21st birthday.
Last May, he was scheduled for execution, but saw the date cancelled after prosecutors failed to give 90 days notice to the defense. In September, he was scheduled to die, but the date was pushed back again, this time in light of the impacts of Hurricane Harvey.
Then in November, his December execution date was canceled and his case remanded to the trial court in light of claims of false testimony from a jailhouse snitch.
“I described what Juan Castillo supposedly told me about the capital murder,” former Bexar County inmate Gerardo Gutierrez wrote in 2013, according to court records. “Juan Castillo never told me this information about this capital murder case. This testimony was untrue about Juan Castillo. I made up this testimony to try to help myself.”
Although prosecutors argued that appeals based on the 2013 revelation were procedurally barred and not credible, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals looked to a 2009 decision mandating that – whether or not it’s intentional – the use of false testimony violates due process. Accordingly, on Nov. 28, the appeals court sent the case back to Bexar County.
There, the trial court on Dec. 1 decided that Gutierrez’s testimony wasn’t what made the difference in Castillo’s conviction, as everything he testified to matched statements from other witnesses. The decision came one day after the judge voluntarily recused himself and was replaced.
Although the prosecution was able to file its recommended findings before the court ruled, the defense was not able to do the same.
Now, Castillo’s defense has plans to file a motion for reconsideration, Marzullo said.
The next scheduled execution in Texas is Thomas “Bart” Whitaker, a Sugar Land man convicted in a murder-for-hire plot to kill his own family. If his appeals fail, the 38-year-old will be the fourth Texas man executed this year.